ULiège part of Athena, the next major astrophysical mission of ESA
The CSL and ULiège astronomers are closely associated with X-IFU, an X-ray spectrometer of unparalleled precision to understand the hot and energetic Universe
The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) confirmed this week the feasibility of the Athena satellite and more particularly of its most innovative instrument, X-IFU, an X-ray spectrometer whose spectral resolution is 50 times better than that of XMM-Newton.
This is ESA's most ambitious scientific mission for the next ten years.
The Athena satellite is expected to be launched in December 2031. It will take over from the two space-based X-ray observatories, ESA's XMM-Newton and NASA's Chandra. It will be dedicated to the study of extreme phenomena such as black holes, galaxy clusters and star explosions. With the X-IFU spectrometer, one of the two on-board instruments, it will allow precise measures of the physical properties of these objects, which are the true archives of the origins of the formation and evolution of the Universe.
The international X-IFU consortium brings together more than 220 engineers and researchers from 50 laboratories in 13 countries on three continents. Belgium's contribution is the exclusive responsibility of the University of Liège, through the Unit of Research STAR (Department of Astrophysics, Geophysics and Oceanography and the Centre Spatial de Liège CSL).
Technically, the CSL is in charge of the opening cylinder. This cryostat subsystem of the instrument contains ultra-thin filters that only allow the signals useful for the detector to pass through while keeping the heat at a distance. Tanguy Tibert and Lionel Jacques of the CSL are responsible for this essential component of X-IFU.
On the scientific level, the ULiège team around Professor Gregor Rauw, Co-Investigator of X-IFU, is involved in the preparation of the Athena mission and its flagship instrument.
The Belgian contribution is financed by Belspo via a grant from the PRODEX contract.
The X-IFU instrument represents an investment of between 450 and 550 million euros. The green light for its development has just been given.