ATHENA: the next generation X-ray observatory


I.   The full telescope
III. The teams
IV. Publications and presentations
V.  Outreach


I. The telescope

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 in 2033 of a large X-ray observatory designed by a consortium of European institutes, particularly France, Germany and Italy, and with US and Japanese participation.  At the moment in Phase B (Preliminary Definition) the mission adoption by ESA is expected by the end of 2022, leading to launch around 2033.

Figure 1: A conceptual design for the Athena spacecraft derived from the ESA CDF study, designed to be accommodated in an Ariane 5 launcher. – credit ESA.

The ATHENA observatory will have three key instruments: 

  • an X - ray telescope with a 12-m focal length for X-rays between 0.5 and 12 keV with a spatial resolution of about 5 arcsec and a large effective area of 1.4 m^2 at 1 keV, using an innovative technology; the SPO mirror  (Silicon Pore Optics) developed by ESA
  • a large field spectral-imager (40'x40') with a spectral resolution of 150 eV: the WFI(Wide Field Imager).
  • a high spectral-imager (2.5 eV FWHM), the X-IFU (Integral Field Unit) 


These 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 collector 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 that have not yet been resolved:

  • 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?


Generally speaking, this observatory will have a unique contribution 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 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  2030-2035 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_v2.5 ASIC - Athena Warm Asic for the X-ifu Electronics
AwaXe_v2.5 ASIC - Athena Warm Asic for the X-ifu Electronics
The integration of almost 100 of those 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 take care about thermal and EMI/EMC issues.


III. The teams

  • Andrea GOLDWURM (APC Scientific responsible - co-I Science, ground segment)
  • Florence ARDELLIER (APC WFEE Project manager)
  • Damien PRELE ( APC WFEE System Engineer - co-I X-IFU and Detection-chain team member)

Scientific team 

  • Alexis COLEIRO (E2E simulator, ground segment WFEE)
  • Peggy VARNIERE (WP2, WP2.5, E2E simulator)
  • Stefano GABICI
  • Régis TERRIER
  • Raphaël Migon-Risse (ATER Université de Paris)
  • Léna Arthur (PhD student LabEx UnivEarths / Université de Paris)

Instrument team (WFEE)

  • Bernard COURTY (Command control)
  • Si CHEN (Micro-electronics design)
  • Alain GIVAUDAN (Mechanics conception)
  • Manuel GONZALEZ (WFEE characterization and analysis)
  • Maurice KARAKAC (Mechanics)
  • Jean LESREL (Electrical Avionic)
  • Jean MESQUIDA (Micro-electronics layout)
  • Ronan OGER (PCB design)
  • Damien PAILOT (Tests and integration)

Support team 

  • Stéphane COLONGES (Quality control)
  • Stéphane DHEILLY (Mechanics workshop)
  • Catherine HUGON (Communication
  • Guy MONIER (Board & cables assemblies)
  • Lydie PAVILI-BALADINE (Administration)

APC associated scientists 

  • James BARTLETT
  • Paolo GOLDONI
  • Etienne PARIZOT
  • Michel PIAT (Instrumentation cryo.)

Roles of APC scientists in Athena

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

IV. Publication and presentation

V. Outreach