ATHENA: the next generation X-ray observatory



I.   The Athena Mission and instruments
III. News
IV. The team
V. Publications and presentations
VI.  Outreach


I. The Athena mission and instruments 

The ATHENA mission (Advanced Telescope for High ENergy Astrophysics) is the second long-range space mission (L2) of the long term program  Cosmic Vision of the European Space Agency  (ESA). This mission is dedicated to the scientific theme The hot and violent Universe which it plans to explore with the launch of a large X - ray observatory designed by a consortium of European institutes, particularly in France, Germany and Italy, and with US and Japanese participation.  In June 2014, it was selected by the ESA Science Program Committee (SPC) for the second large mission opportunity. In November 2023, the mission was redefined (“NewAthena”). The SPC recognized that NewAthena is a flagship mission of the ESA science program.

Figure 1: A conceptual design for the Athena spacecraft derived from the ESA CDF study, designed to be accommodated in an Ariane 6 launcher. – credit ESA.

The ATHENA observatory will be composed by a large  X-ray telescope with a 12-m focal length which collects X-rays between 0.5 and 12 keV with an angular resolution of about 5-10 arcsec and a large effective area of 1.4 m^2 at 1 keV, using an innovative technology; the SPO mirrors (Silicon Pore Optics) developed by ESAa, and two focal plane instruments: 

  • A large field spectral-imager (40'x40') with a spectral resolution of 150 eV: the WFI (Wide Field Imager).
  • A very high resolution spectral-imager (2.5 eV FWHM), the X-IFU (Integral Field Unit) 

These telescope and focal plane instruments will provide observational capabilities two orders of magnitude greater than the instruments of the previous generation. ATHENA will allow spectacular advances in all fields of astrophysics, thanks in particular to the very large collection area, the good angular resolution combined with the large field of view, and, above all, the exceptional spectral resolution of 2.5 eV of the X-IFU spectrometer.

Figure 2: Schematics of the X-ray Integral Field Unit (X-IFU) spectrometer onboard ATHENA – crédit ESA.




Athena's main objectives are to provide answers to two fundamental questions of the Hot and Violent Universe scientific theme:

  • How does matter come together in the universe to form the large structures that are observed (galaxies and galaxy clusters)?
  • How do giant black holes form and grow and what effects do they have on the evolution of the universe?

This observatory will provide unique contributions to the study of the high-energy universe, in particular in the domain of compact objects (black hole, neutron star, white dwarf), transient sources, supernova remnants, pulsar nebulae, the physics of galaxy clusters and active galactic nuclei (AGN), the warm plasmas in the interstellar medium, stars and also some phenomena in the solar system.

Several of those are of interest in the APC laboratory, in particular in the "Astrophysique de Haute Energie" and "Cosmologie" groups: 

  • The galactic center region and its super massive black-hole;
  • Galactic compact objects;
  • Particle acceleration and interaction processes;
  • Variability and spectroscopy of AGN;
  • Galaxy clusters and large cosmology surveys,
  • Transient high energy sky and multi-messenger astronomy.

Finally, the third long-range space mission (L3)  will be dedicated to the study of the gravitational universe with the instrument LISA which also has an APC contribution. Both ATHENA and LISA will be in orbit around 2033-2038 and synergy between them will give Europe a strong position for the multi-messenger exploration of the universe.



The Warm Front End Electronics - WFEE of the instrument X-IFU d’ATHENA is, since the start of Phase A (2015), under the responsibility of APC. Up to now the development focused mostly on the creation of Application-Specific Integrated Circuit -  ASICs - covering the main function of the WFEE :
  •  The DC bias of the superconducting sensors (TES) 
  •  The low noise amplification of the signal right outside the cryostat  
  •  The adjustment of the superconducting readout chain (SQUID stages) operating points 

Hence, the developed circuit has low noise architecture and very low gain drift.

AwaXe_v3 ASIC - Athena Warm Asic for the X-ifu Electronics
The integration of almost 100 of these electronic circuits is also under the responsibility of APC which is working on the conception of boxes to be installed around the X-IFU dewar. This development also deals with the thermal and the EMI/EMC issues.


III. News

  • November 2023 - Total Ionizing Dose tests completed on AwaXe_v4.
AwaXe_v4 during dose test against a Co60 source
  • March 2024 - Reception of AwaXe_v5FC, AwaXe_V4.5DAC and AwaXe_v4.5LNA ASIC prototypes.\
Testboard with AwaXe_v5, AwaXe_v4.5LNA and AwaXe_v4.5DAC

IV. The team

APC participates to Athena in the frame of the French contribution to the mission and in particular within the X-IFU Consortium. APC Athena team members are:

Project responsibles

  • Andrea GOLDWURM (APC Scientific responsible, Science co-Investigator for X-IFU)
  • Damien PRELE (APC WFEE Project manager, APC WFEE System Engineer, Instrument co-Investigator for X-IFU and Detection-chain team member)
  • Eugenio DAMBRAUSKAS (Project Control Engineer)

Scientific team 

  • Alexis COLEIRO (E2E simulator, ground segment WFEE)
  • Peggy VARNIERE (WP2, WP2.5, E2E simulator)
  • Stefano GABICI
  • Régis TERRIER
  • Léna ARTHUR (PhD student LabEx UnivEarths / Université Paris Cité)
  • Jonathon BAIRD (PostDoc  LabEx UnivEarths / Université Paris Cité)
  • Raphaël MIGNON-RISSE (PostDoc CNES)
  • Floriane CANGEMI
  • Pier-Alex DUVERNE

Instrument team (WFEE)

  • Si CHEN (Micro-electronics design)
  • Bernard COURTY (Command control)
  • Alain GIVAUDAN (Mechanics conception)
  • Manuel GONZALEZ (Instrument Scientis X-IFU WFEE)
  • Mael LE CAM (Mechanics)
  • Jean LESREL (Electrical Avionic)
  • Jean MESQUIDA (Micro-electronics layout)
  • Michael PUNCH (Instrumentalist)
  • Luis Horacio ARNALDI (Instrumentalist)
  • Bao TON (PhD)

Support team 

  • Stéphane DHEILLY (Mechanics workshop)
  • Lydie PAVILI-BALADINE (Administration)
  • Beng KY (Electronics)

APC associated scientists 

  • James BARTLETT
  • Paolo GOLDONI
  • Etienne PARIZOT
  • Michel PIAT (Instrumentation)
  • Yi ZHANG (Invited professor)

Roles of APC scientists in Athena

  • Several team scientists are members of the Athena Science (and Mission) Working Groups.
  • A. Goldwurm is IN2P3 contact point for the Athena project.

V. Publication and presentation

VI Outreach