Portugal leads system development for the Athena telescope

The Portuguese institution won the competition from the European Space Agency (ESA) to lead one of the consortia of the Athena mission (Advanced Telescope for High-Energy Astrophysics) and for two years is responsible for developing a measurement system for the telescope.

Scheduled for launch in 2031, the Athena telescope will allow us to understand how black holes determined the formation and evolution of the first galaxies, as well as how these galaxies “arrange” in structures spanning hundreds of millions of light years.

The project is part of the preparation for the future high energy space observatory that will take X-ray radiography of the Universe in the next decade.

The alignment will be done remotely, to ensure that the telescope’s mirror, 2.5 meters in diameter, is pointing precisely at the sensor of each instrument, and the process is repeated whenever the mirror changes between instruments.

One of these instruments, a large-field image camera, also has a Portuguese hand, through the participation, since 2013, of AI researchers in its development.

The consortium responsible for the design and development of the measurement system, for the design of the optical component and for the execution of the tests, which will now be led by the Portuguese institution, comprises three companies, two of which are national.

The mechanical component of the system will be developed by the Portuguese Frezite High Performance and the electronic subsystems are the responsibility of Evoleo. Italian Thales Alenia Space will support requirements development, integration with the rest of the telescope and the definition of verification tests.

Currently, the project is in “phase B”, which ends with the definition of the final dimensions of the model and the electrical, mechanical and thermal interfaces.

The construction of the model that will go into space takes place in a third phase, phase C, for which there will be a new contest in 2022.

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