NICER Proposers Guide

Guide for NICER Cycle 1 Proposers

Table of Contents

NOTE: Changes have been made to this guide to reflect a clarification to the TOO proposal submission policy associated with this AO. These changes have been noted in red.

1. Overview

This Announcement of Opportunity (AO) solicits Guest Observer proposals for NICER. Approximately 5 Ms of time will be available in the observing period March 1, 2019 to February 29, 2020. (Time after September 30, 2019 depends on a succesful Senior Review for the NICER mission.) In addition, up to $1.25M in funding will be made available to support the analysis of targets accepted at priority A or B. Priority C targets will be observed on a "best-effort" basis. Target proposals will be considered from both US and foreign Principal Investigators (PIs).

Proposers may request a period of up to 6-months for exclusive use of the NICER data associated with their proposal. The exclusive-use period will commence upon delivery of the data to the HEASARC, typically within two weeks of the observation. If an exclusive-use period is not requested, the validated data will be made public via the HEASARC archive within two weeks of acquisition. Only PIs affiliated with, and located at, US institutions will be eligible for funding for accepted NICER proposals through NASA. As part of the NICER Cycle 1 program, up to 400 ks of NuSTAR observing time will be made available for coordinated observations with NICER.

In response to this AO, Target of Opportunity (ToO) proposals may be submitted for observations of transient events associated with known sources (i.e. targets with known coordinates). Proposals will NOT be accepted for new transient targets or unknown/unexpected phenomena in response to this AO. During the cycle, requests for a TOO/DDT observations of new targets should be submitted by following the instructions given here. In addition, multi-year proposals will NOT be accepted in response to this AO.

General information about the NICER mission and the X-ray Timing Instrument (XTI) can be found in the NICER Mission Guide document. More detailed information is available on the NICER Documentation page. Tools and files to assist in proposal preparation are available on the NICER Proposal Tools page.

2. Deadline

Proposals are due no later than 4:30 pm EST on Thursday, December 20, 2018.

3. Proposal Elements and Submission Method

Additional details concerning Cycle 1 are given in the NICER AO. There will be a two-phase proposal process. Phase 1 is for observing proposals. Phase 2 is for budget proposals for successful Phase 1 proposers for whom funding is available. Only observing proposals will be accepted at this time.

Proposal submission is done via the HEASARC ARK/RPS on-line system. Hard-copy submission is not required. The following elements are required:

  • Proposal form (cover page & general form, and one or more pages of the Target form) generated by, and submitted through, ARK/RPS.
  • Scientific justification in PDF format, not exceeding 4 pages for a proposal, to be uploaded through ARK/RPS.

The following should not be submitted as part of the Phase 1 proposal:

  • The PI's institution's own cover page.
  • Supporting material (e.g., Curriculum Vitae, pending/current support).
  • Formatted electronic copies of the ARK/RPS form.
  • Hard copies of any of the above, including electronically required elements.

4. Some Key Details of the Proposal Form

In order to submit a NICER proposal, PIs must first create an ARK account and/or join the NICER RPS group. PIs can then access the NICER Remote Proposal System form via ARK/RPS.

We provide below some key details for NICER Cycle 1. For further details, consult the ARK/RPS help file for NICER.

Cover Page
  • Provide a title (maximum 120 characters) and abstract (maximum 800 characters) for your NICER proposal. The Principal Investigator's name, institution, address, telephone and email address should be already populated. Incorrect information should be corrected within the PI's user profile, not in the NICER RPS form itself.
  • In addition to investigations utilizing NICER observations alone, proposals involving coordinated observations with the NuSTAR observatory can also be proposed during Cycle 1. Proposals for joint NICER-NuSTAR observations should be indicated by checking the NuSTAR box in the "Joint Proposal?" section of the ARK/RPS form. PIs of joint NICER-NuSTAR proposals will also need to input the requested NuSTAR exposure time for each target in the "Target Form" area below.
  • Institutional endorsement is not required by NASA in NICER phase 1 proposals. If endorsement is required or desired by the PI's institution, contact the NICER helpdesk for information on how to submit that endorsement.
General Form
  • Enter the list of Co-Investigators (Co-Is) for your NICER proposal. To facilitate checking for conflicts of interest during the peer review process, the Co-I's institution must be chosen from the menu (thereby enforcing a uniform set of names). Please check the list of institutions and contact the RPS team as soon as possible if your Co-I's institution is not on this list.
  • Up to 25 co-investigators can be entered into the RPS form. Only the first 10 will appear on the PDF versions of the form. The full list will be available for conflict checking and will be provided to proposal reviewers.
  • In some instances, the PI may wish the first Co-I to serve as a backup for communication regarding the NICER proposal. In this case, the "Contact First Co-Investigator" box must be checked, and a telephone number provided. If the box has not been checked, communications regarding the proposal will be routed ONLY through the PI.
  • Note that bilateral collaborations between scientists affiliated with institutions from the USA and the People's Republic of China (PRC) are not allowed by United States Federal law. Multilateral collaborations that involve scientists from institutions in the USA, the PRC, and other countries are allowed, however. Please refer to the PRC FAQ for ROSES for details.
Target Form
  • To begin adding targets to the Target Form, select the green "Add" button. Multiple blank targets may be added by selecting the number of desired targets from the drop-down. Once a target has been added, it may be cloned.
  • For each target, provide a "Target Category" from the drop-down menu. If no category fits the target type, select the closest, and send email to the NICER help desk with clarification.
  • For each target, select the checkbox next to "Yes" for the following conditions if they are applicable:
    • Extended Source: Provide the extent of the source in arcminutes.
    • Background Restricted: Select the maximum background level allowable for the observation, and provide a brief statement justifying that constraint. (See Section 5.)
    • Monitoring Program: For proposals that require two or more observations of the same target (called "visits"), summarize the desired observations, including number, duration, and cadence. (NOTE: The time between visits must be greater than 1 day.)
    • Phase Dependent: For objects with periodicities where the timing of the observation depends on the orbital phase, provide parameters needed to calculate the desired phase interval. Phase 0 is defined by the provided Epoch.
    • Time Constrained: For observations tied to specific events or that have other specific requirements for the duration and/or observing cadence, summarize the timing constraints with sufficient detail to facilitate scheduling of the observation.
    • Coordinated Observation: Use drop-down to indicate if the coordination is required, or simply a preference. Provide the observatory/observatories that will need to be involved in scheduling. Desribe the nature of the coordination and a summary of the constraints that coordination adds to the observation.
    • Minimum Continuous Observation: Provide a justifcation for the desired duration of observation. Note that the maximum continuous observation possible with NICER is time- and location-dependent, and will not exceed 2.4 ks, and is typically much less.

    See the NICER RPS help page for more information about these fields. In addition, observations coordinated with other ground- or space-based observatories add complexity to the observation scheduling, and will thus require higher priority in order to be scheduled.

  • Time-constrained sources should be evaluated with the Viewing tool to determine if the source is visible by NICER at the desired observation epoch. Note, however, that Viewing currently evaluates only Sun- and Moon-based constraints, not the full and complex visibility restrictions to which NICER i targets are subject. In cases of strict time constraints, proposers may contact the NICER helpdesk to request a higher-fidelity visibility analysis.
  • If the proposer is requesting NuSTAR time, the minimum NuSTAR exposure time is 20 ks.
  • Estimated Count Rates: Use the WebPIMMS tool to estimate the expected total band (0.2-12 keV) count rate of the source in counts/second for NICER's XTI instrument.

After completing all fields for a proposal in ARK/RPS, use the Verify button to confirm that all required entries exist and conform to the expected format. Forms that pass verification can then be submitted. ARK/RPS allows PIs to continue to modify submitted proposals until the deadline, so there is no penalty for submitting the proposal form early.

The LaTeX, PostScript, and PDF buttons of ARK/RPS can be used to generate formatted versions of the proposal forms. Although it is often useful for the PIs to keep formatted copies of the forms for the record, it is not a required part of the proposal submission process.

5. Constraints and Category Designations

NICER observations must take into account a wide variety of complicated observing constraints that can significantly limit visibility to a given source. These constraints include:

  • International Space Station mechanical obstructions, attitude, and operational activities with schedules beyond the control of the NICER mission
  • Sun/Moon/Earth avoidance requirements
  • Increased particle backgrounds from the South Atlantic Anomaly
  • Time-variable particle background at high latitudes associated with disturbances in Earth's magnetosphere due to solar activity.

Observations with additional constraints (time, phase, coordinated, etc.) will need to be designated Category A in order to guarantee inclusion in NICER's schedule during Cycle 1. The effect of time contraints will be evaluated by a member of the NICER technical staff, and their comments provided to the scientific review panel to ensure constraints receive consistent consideration.

Observations of constrained Category B targets will be executed on a best-effort basis. Constrained Category A and B observations not scheduled during Cycle 1 may be carried over to Cycle 2 where warranted by scientific or operational circumstances (e.g., in the case of coordinated observations with other space- or ground-based observatories). Category C observations not scheduled during Cycle 1 will not be carried over to Cycle 2.

In summary, the implications for each category designation are:

  • Category A:
    These targets will be observed, even if they require additional scheduling constraints. If these observations cannot be scheduled during Cycle 1, they may be carried over to Cycle 2, if appropriate for the scientific investigation.

  • Category B:
    These targets will be guaranteed observing time only if they do not require additional scheduling constraints. If possible, time-constrained Category B observations will be scheduled on a best-effort basis. Category B targets without schedule constraints that do not get observed in Cycle 1 may be carried over to Cycle 2, if appropriate for the scientific investigation.

  • Category C:
    These targets will not be guaranteed observing time. Category C targets without schedule constraints will be scheduled on a best-effort basis. Category C targets with schedule constraints are unlikely to be observed.

6. Scientific Justification

  • The scientific justification for a program must not exceed 4 Letter size pages.
  • Proposals must use a font having no more than 15 characters per inch (horizontally), typical of 12-pt Times New Roman font. The scientific justification can be generated using the software of the PI's choice, as long as it is converted to PDF format before submission.
  • We suggest that proposers use the LaTeX template or the Word template for the scientific justification. When using these templates, the user should double-check that the top, bottom, right and left margins are at least 1 inch.
  • Proposals should include a description of the scientific objectives; justify the choice of target(s); show that existing data (previous X-ray observations or at other wavelengths) are insufficient to achieve the objectives; justify the choice of NICER over other existing observatories (preferably linked to some unique characteristic of NICER); and demonstrate the feasibility of the proposed observation and analysis.
  • The length of the requested observation should be justified based on the specific scientific objectives, preferably using simulations or scaled from prior observations of a similar source. Use the WebPIMMS tool to estimate the expected total count rates.
  • PIs are encouraged to review the list of targets included in the NICER Science Team Investigations document. Proposals to observe these targets, or other targets already observed by NICER, must include a justification for additional observations. Examples include acquiring a much longer exposure, utilizing a different pointing position within an extended object, or sampling a different observing window for a variable object. The full list of observed NICER targets can be found using the HEASARC/Browse NICER Master table.

7. Phase 2 (Budget) Proposals

U.S. PIs of successful Phase 1 proposals may be invited to submit a Phase 2 (budget) proposal. These invitations will be subject to availability of funding, and based on the proposal rankings as assigned by the Phase 1 peer review process.

The Phase 2 budget proposal deadline is May 2, 2019.

As with all NASA ROSES proposals, final institutional submission is required. Please leave enough time for your institutional process. If your institution requires a NASA grant solicitation number, it is NNH18ZDA001N-NICER.

To submit a Stage 2 proposal, follow these basic steps:

  1. Log on to NSPIRES. If you do not have an NSPIRES account, you will need to create one and affiliate with your institution.
  2. On your NSPIRES home page, click on "Proposals/NOIs."
  3. Click the "▸Create Proposal" button.
  4. Select "Solicitation." Even though your proposal has already been selected via Phase 1, do not select "Prior-phase Proposal."
  5. Select "NICER Guest Observer - Cycle 1" (NNH18ZDA001N-NICER)
  6. Enter proposal information and your institutional affiliation.
  7. When proposal elements are complete, use the "Release to Org" button to release the proposal to your institutional proposal office.
  8. Your institutional proposal office must then perform the final proposal submission.
A Phase 2 cost proposal consists of:
  1. Cover page (via NSPIRES forms)
  2. The abstract (via NSPIRES forms)
  3. The budget justification (12pt minimum font with reasonable margins), not to exceed two pages, including: a) a breakdown of the work assignments for all funded investigators, b) any major purchases including workstations, c) proposed scientific travel, d) publication costs, and e) any cost sharing applied to this project
  4. Confirmation of commitment (via NSPIRES forms) from any unfunded but essential personnel and from any necessary observing facilities on which time is not granted through the NICER proposal review process
  5. A listing of any current and pending support
  6. A budget prepared according to the guidelines of the PI or Co-I institution, detailing the requested itemized expenditures
  7. All required government certifications
  8. A 1-2 page CV for each PI or Co-I requesting support.

If you have any questions concerning NICER or the NICER GO program, visit the Feedback form.

Last Updated: December 4, 2018