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Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics

Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics
Mission type Space observatory
Operator European Space Agency
Mission duration 5 years
Spacecraft properties
Launch mass Script error: No such module "convert".
BOL mass Script error: No such module "convert".
Dry mass Script error: No such module "convert".
Power Script error: No such module "convert".
Start of mission
Launch date Q4 2028
Rocket Ariane V
Orbital parameters
Reference system L2 point
Type X-ray
Focal length 12m
X-ray Integral Field Unit, Wide Field Imager

The Advanced Telescope for High ENergy Astrophysics (ATHENA) is a planned X-ray telescope. It is the second (L2) large class mission within ESA Cosmic Vision Program.[1][2] ATHENA will be a hundred times more sensitive than the best of existing X-ray telescopes - Chandra X-ray Observatory, and XMM-Newton.[3]

Previously, the telescope was a candidate for the first (L1) L-class Cosmic Vision mission, but lost to the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer. ATHENA came about from an ESA reboot of the International X-ray Observatory project planned by ESA, JAXA and NASA from about 2008 to 2011. A changing set of conditions lead to changes, in part because a NASA withdrawal from IXO.[4] IXO had itself resulted from a 2008 proposal merger, including ESA's XEUS. The mission was selected as a second large mission of the Cosmic Vision programme.[5]

Development and mission

Final decision about rebooting International X-ray Observatory took place on the 27th of June 2014.[5]

ATHENA selected science topic is "Hot and Energetic Universe" with an objective of answering to questions from astrophysics: How does ordinary matter assemble into the large-scale structures we see today? And how do black holes grow and shape the Universe?


Ariane 5 will lift ATHENA into a large amplitude Halo orbit around L2 point through a direct transfer burn. L2 was selected due to its stable thermal environment, good sky visibility and high observing efficiency. Each year ATHENA is planned to perform continuous observations of up to 300 celestial point targets, each lasting from half an hour up to over 11 days.[6]

Optics and instruments

ATHENA will utilize telescope with 12m focal length and two primary instruments: high resolution X-ray Integral Field Unit (X-IFU) and a moderate resolution, but large field of view Wide Field Imager (WFI).[6]

Telescope will use ESA-developed silicon pore optics providing combination of large field of view and high angular resolution. Each pore is a Wolter Type-I telescope only few mm2 in diameter, with two reflections inside of each pore bringing X-ray in focus. In total 1.5 million pores will be used. Telescope will be manufactured in 60mm wide arrays using commercially available silicon wafers.[6]

X-ray Integral Field Unit

X-IFU utilizes an array of cryogenically cooled transition edge sensors with a detection range of 0.2-12 keV. Total field of view is 5 arcminutes.[7]

Wide Field Imager

WFI is an X-ray spectrometer utilizing five arrays of p-channel field-effect transistors with a detection range of 0.1-15 keV. Central chip has a resolution of 256x256px and a field of view 7.5 arcminutes. Four outer arrays have a resolution of 448x640px and a field of view 40 arcminutes.[8][9]:1,9

Construction and engineering

Science team was appointed on 16 July 2014.[10] Initial vibration testing of a silicon pore optics mirror module took place in August 2014.[11] ESA Science Programme Committee will meet in 2019 for a full and final approval of the project before construction will begin in the same year.[3][12]


  1. ^ "ESA's new vision to study the invisible universe". ESA. Retrieved 29 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Jonathan Amos (2 May 2012). "ESA selects 1bn-euro Juice probe to Jupiter". BBC News Online. BBC. Retrieved 13 May 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Jonathan Amos (27 June 2014). "Athena: Europe plans huge X-ray space telescope". BBC News Online. BBC. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  4. ^ "About ATHENA". ESA. 2 April 2012. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  5. ^ a b "ESA Science & Technology: Athena to study the hot and energetic Universe". ESA. 27 June 2014. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c "ESA Science & Technology: ATHENA". ESA. 19 August 2014. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  7. ^ "The X-ray Integral Field Unit (X-IFU)". ATHENA website. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  8. ^ "The Wide Field Imager (WFI)". ATHENA website. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  9. ^ A. Rau (19 October 2014). "The Wide Field Imager (WFI) for Athena+" (DOCX). Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  10. ^ "ESA appointed Science Study Team". ATHENA website. 16 July 2014. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  11. ^ "Vibration testing of silicon pore optics module". ESA. 19 August 2014. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  12. ^ Jacob Aron (30 June 2014). "Biggest X-ray eye in space to hunt hot cosmic objects". New Scientist. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 

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