One of the least documented and understood aspects of gamma-ray bursts (GRB) is the rise phase of the optical light curve. The Ultra-Fast Flash Observatory (UFFO) is an effort to address this question through extraordinary opportunities presented by a series of space missions including a small spacecraft observatory. The UFFO is equipped with a fast-response Slewing Mirror Telescope (SMT) which uses rapidly moving mirror or mirror arrays to redirect the optical beam rather than slewing the entire spacecraft to aim the optical instrument at the GRB position. The UFFO will probe the early optical rise of GRBs with a sub-second response, for the first time, opening a completely new frontier in GRB and transient studies, the only GRB system which can point and measure on these time scales. Its fast response measurements of the optical emission of dozens of GRB each year will provide unique probes of the burst mechanism, shock breakouts in core-collapse supernovae, tidal disruptions around black holes, test Lorentz violation, be the electromagnetic counterpart to neutrino and gravitational wave signatures of the violent universe, and verify the prospect of GRB as a new standard candle potentially opening up the z>10 universe. As a first step, we employ a motorized slewing stage in SMT which can point to the event within 1s after X-ray trigger, in the UFFO-pathfinder payload onboard the Lomonosov satellite to be launched in 2012. The pathfinder was a small and limited, yet remarkably powerful micro-observatory for rapid optical response to bright gamma-ray bursts, the first part of our GRB and rapid-response long-term program. We describe the early photon science, the space mission of UFFO-pathfinder, and our plan for the next step.
Towards Ultimate Understanding of the Universe - Proceedings of the First Lecospa Symposium, 2013, p. 259-273