Collecting data on the formation and evolution of groups of galaxies and black holes is the task of the telescope ATHENA. Polish scientists are involved in the work of the international team that builds the telescope. Start mission is planned for the year 2028.
The ATHENA (Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics) mission is carried out by the European Space Agency (ESA) within the scientific program Cosmic Vision. The cost of the mission will exceed 900 million euros, and the probe is scheduled to be lifted in 2028. Engineers from SENER Polska participate in the work on the construction of the telescope, and perhaps more Polish researchers will soon join them.
„The telescope will perform many point observations of the fragments of the Universe. About 300 observations per year are assumed, lasting an average of 105 seconds each. The mission is scheduled for a minimum of five years of operations, but all systems are designed to function twice as long. The exact observation locations will be selected by scientists” – told PAP explains Aleksandra Bukała of SENER Polska.
ATHENA will help scientists answer the question of how ordinary matter that surrounds us forms great structures. „To answer this question, scientists will have to map the hot gas structures occurring in the Universe, in particular large gas clouds, galaxy groups and so-called intergalactic centres (thinned matter filling the space between galaxies). Researchers will try to determine their physical properties and trace their evolution in different stages of development of the Universe” – said Bukała.
Researchers will also try to find out how black holes grow and how they affect the shape of the Universe. „The answer to this question, in turn, requires called the discovery of supermassive black holes. For now, they are still hypothetical objects. We have to look into their past, to the early days of the Universe, and understand the processes of matter and energy absorption” – explained Bukała.
The ATHENA telescope will consist of two separate instruments: high resolution X-ray Integral Field Unit (X-IFU) and the Wide Field Imager (WFI) to measure X-ray waves. Engineers from SENER Polska – under contract with ESA – will design the Instrument Selection Mechanism (ISM). It will use a single large mirror for the needs of the two above-mentioned instruments. Depending on the observation needs, the ISM will switch between the two. ISM will be a so-called hexapod, a structure based on six actuators, which allow for precise movement of the mirror in many planes. This solution is rarely used in space missions because of its complexity.
Polish team will have to face unusual challenges associated with the size of the mirror – over 2 meters in diameter and 1.2 tons of weight, and the length of the telescope – more than 12 meters. Challenges for engineers will include: enormous static load of the mirror and shock suppression during launch, as well as the development of highly accurate movement and control system for the ISM actuators. Carrying too large forces onto the telescope during the rotation of the mirror should be avoided, because in conditions of zero gravity it could lead to the destabilization of the probe’s position. Too much force could also damage the mirror itself. The engineers also have to design the Hold Down & Release Mechanism (HDRM) that will allow a controlled and smooth separation of the probe from the rocket. Solving the above problems is critical for the ATHENA mission.
„Most of the work on the concept of the mechanism will be performed by our engineers, but we are counting on the participation of domestic partners in solving some of the problems of design, development and testing the mechanism. We are already in talks with several companies and research institutes” – said Aleksandra Bukała.
The telescope will be placed in close orbit around the so-called L2 point. „It is a place between Earth and the Moon, where the forces of gravity of these two objects balance. It is a popular orbit for missions with the task of investigating distant Universe, because it provides stable thermal conditions for the operation of the observation equipment and uninterrupted opportunity good sky visibility and high observing efficiency” – Bukała told PAP.
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