Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Astrophysical & Planetary Sciences

First Advisor

Webster Cash

Second Advisor

Randall McEntaffer

Third Advisor

James Green

Fourth Advisor

Kevin France

Fifth Advisor

Robert Marshall


This thesis consists of the design, fabrication, and launch of a sounding rocket payload to observe the spectrum of the soft X-ray emission (0.1-1 keV) from the Cygnus Loop supernova remnant. This instrument, designated the Off-plane Grating Rocket for Extended Source Spectroscopy (OGRESS), was launched from White Sands Missile Range on May 2nd, 2015. The X-ray spectrograph incorporated a wire-grid focuser feeding an array of gratings in the extreme off-plane mount which dispersed the spectrum onto Gaseous Electron Multiplier (GEM) detectors. The gain characteristics of OGRESS's GEM detectors were fully characterized with respect to applied voltage and internal gas pressure, allowing operational settings to be optimized. The GEMs were optimized to operate below laboratory atmospheric pressure, allowing lower applied voltages, thus reducing the risk of both electrical arcing and tearing of the thin detector windows. The instrument recorded 388 seconds of data and found highly uniform count distributions over both detector faces, in sharp contrast to the expected thermal line spectrum. This signal is attributed to X-ray fluorescence lines generated inside the spectrograph. The radiation is produced when thermal ionospheric particles are accelerated into the interior walls of the spectrograph by the high voltages of the detector windows. A fluorescence model was found to fit the flight data better than modeled supernova spectra. Post-flight testing and analysis revealed that electrons produce distinct signal on the detectors which can also be successfully modeled as fluorescence emission.