Jake Greenidge and Tara Magill
A new telescope, designed to study black holes and their effects on their surroundings, has been green lit by the European Space Agency (ESA).
The project, dubbed ATHENA, is set to be the largest x-ray telescope in history, and should be launching in 2028. Work on the project started when another project, the International X-ray Observatory, a joint endeavour of NASA, ESA and JAXA, was cancelled in 2011. After a final decision to be made in 2019 to finalise costs and technology limitations, the project will go into full production for launch between 2028 and 2033.
The Advanced Telescope for High Altitude Astrophysics (ATHENA) is planned to be the biggest and most powerful x-ray telescope to date, easily outclassing previous ESA’s XMM-Newton telescope launched in 1999.
The launch of ATHENA will hopefully allow scientists to gather a greater understanding of how the universe was formed. Through studying the origins of supermassive black holes, and the conditions surrounding them at the centre of galaxies, we hope to shed some light on these mysterious phenomena. ATHENA will also be used for mapping the large-scale structure on the Universe, and to study hot gas, which is a major component of the Universe.
ATHENA will be a“Large Class” launch in ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-25 plan. After the meeting in 2019 to finalise costs, which are estimated at over one billion euros, the project will go into production for a 2028 launch. Once launched, ATHENA will travel to an orbit about 1.5 million kilometres beyond the Earth, where it will begin transmitting data to a lab in New Norcia, Australia.
One question that arises is how to transport and launch the project. The proposed vessel, Ariane 5, may well be out of production by the time the mission launches. However, its successor, Ariane 6, is still under review and it is unknown whether its specifications will allow for such a huge undertaking.