The space-based OWL mission is designed to perform high-statistics measurements of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays (UHECR) using the Earth's atmosphere as a vast particle calorimeter, furthering the field of charged-particle astronomy. OWL has been developed in formal NASA instrument and mission studies and is comprised of two large telescopes separated by approx.600 km in 1000 km, near-equatorial orbits to stereoscopically image the near-UV air fluorescence emitted by UHECR-induced particle cascades. The High Resolution Fly's Eye (HiRes) Collaboration, and subsequently the Pierre Auger Observatory, recently reported confirmation of the expected Greisen-Zatsepin-Kuzmin (GZK) suppression of the UHECR flux above a few times 10(exp 19) eV. This observation is consistent with the majority of UHECR originating in astrophysical objects and reduces the need to invoke exotic physical processes. Particles observed above the GZK threshold energy must have come from sources within about 100 Mpc from the Earth. The small particle deflection angles expected at UHECR energies, with standard assumptions of extragalactic magnetic fields, are on the order of 1 degree. Thus by observing particles above the GZK threshold with sufficient exposure, there is the potential of identifying and characterizing individual UHECR sources. Auger has reported significant anisotropy in the arrival directions of UHECR at energies above about 6 10(exp 19) eV observed in the South, and a correlation to AGN in the 12th VCV catalog, suggesting that the sources of UHECR are traced by the distribution of luminous matter in the Universe. However, with similar statistics and the same event selection criteria, HiRes observations in the North are consistent with isotropy. Extended observations by Auger-South, by Telescope Array in the North, and possibly by the proposed Auger-North, will further these investigations. However, much greater exposures will be required to fully identify individual sources and measure their cosmic ray spectra. A five-year OWL mission would deliver approximately 10(exp 6)sq km/sr/yr of exposure with full aperture reached at approx. 10(exp 19) eV. The baseline 3 m optical aperture OWL telescopes with 45 degree full field-of-view are easily accomodated on a single conventional launch vehicle. On orbit, the simultaneous viewing of the same volume of atmosphere allows for precise stereo event reconstruction, which is nearly independent of the inclination of the particle track and tolerant of atmospheric conditions. The availability of monocular operation provides increased reliability or can be employed to increase the instantaneous aperture. In stereo mode, OWL is also capable of fully reconstructing horizontal or upward-moving showers and so has unmatched sensitivity to neutrino-induced events. The details of the OWL mission will he presented and its science capabilities will be discussed.
International Cosmic Ray Conference; 7-15 Jul. 2009; Lodz; Poland