ATHENA: Le grande observatoire d’Astronomie X


I.    The full telescope
III. The teams
IV. Publication and presentation
V.  Outreach


I. The full 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 2032 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 A (concept study in the different groups) the mission adoption by ESA is expected by the end of 2019, leading to launch around 2032.

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 spectro-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 detectors will give it a capacity of observation of 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 of 5" 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 iinstrument 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)
  • Philippe LAURENT (Background simulations)
  • Stefano GABICI
  • Régis TERRIER

Instrument team (WFEE)

  • Alain GIVAUDAN (Mechanics conception)
  • Bernard COURTY (Command control)
  • Fabrice VOISIN (Micro-electronics design)
  • Jean MESQUIDA (Micro-electronics layout)
  • Maurice KARAKAC (Mechanics)
  • Damien PAILOT (Tests and integration)
  • SI CHEN (Instrumental PhD - 11/16-10/19)

APC associated scientists 

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

Support team 

  • Stéphane DHEILLY (Mechanics workshop)
  • Vincent GUIFFO (Administration)
  • Stéphane COLONGES (Quality control)
  • Sarodia VYDELINGUM (Communication)

Roles of APC scientists in Athena

  • A. Goldwurm : member of the X-IFU Science Team and member of an ASWG, APC contact point for Athena, IN2P3 contact point for Athena project
  • P. Laurent : Co-Chair of the Athena Science Working Group on background noise (background)

IV. Publication and presentation

  • S. Chen et al., RHBD for WFEE of X­IFU/ATHENA Space Observatory, SERESSA, 2018. S. Chen et al., Development of the WFEE Subsystem for the X­IFU Instrument of the ATHENA Space Observatory, SPIE Space Telescopes and Instrumentation, 2018.
  • D. Barret et al., The Athena X­ray Integral Field Unit (X­IFU), SPIE Space Telescopes and Instrumentation, 2018.
  • D. Prêle et al., SiGe Integrated Circuit Developments for SQUID/TES Readout,
  • Journal of Low Temperature Physics, 2018.
  • S. Chen et al., Amplificateur bas bruit à faible dérive de gain en technologie BiCMOS AMS SiGe 350 nm, Ecole IN2P3 de Microélectronique, 2017
  • D. Prêle et al., Total dose (up to 100 krad) testing of a 0.35 BiCMOS SiGe technology, Ecole IN2P3 de microélectronique, 2017.
  • D. Barret et al., The Athena X­ray Integral Field Unit (X­IFU), SPIE Space Telescopes and Instrumentation, 2016.
  • T.L. Trong et al., X­IFU technical challenge, SPIE Space Telescopes and Instrumentation, 2016.
  • D. Prêle et al., Gain drift compensation with no feedback­loop developed for the X­Ray Integral Field Unit/ATHENA readout chain, Journal of Astronomical Telescopes, Instruments, and Systems, Vol. 2(4), 2016.
  • D. Prêle, Front­end Multiplexing applied to SQUID multiplexing, Journal of Instrumentation, Volume 10, 2015.

V. Outreachc

  • D. Prêle and A. Goldwurm: Know more about the APC contribution, The X­IFU Gazette N°7, April 2018.