Collin Arocho
24 February 2020

The Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) has assembled the first version of its x-ray camera for the upcoming European satellite known as Athena (link in Dutch). The satellite, which is scheduled for launch in 2031, will be equipped with SRON’s X-ray Integral Field Unit (X-IFU) to capture images with high spectral resolution. Scientists are looking to expand knowledge of supermassive black holes and hot structures in the universe, by utilizing the more than 3000 pixel camera with its spectral resolution of 2.5 eV.

SRON Athena
Designe of X-IFU’s camera (cross section). Credit: SRON

The camera, which is currently assembled at the SRON cleanroom in Utrecht, will be sent to its Groningen location to undergo testing. Early tests include determining if it can maintain the required temperature of 0.05 degrees above absolute zero (around -273 °C). Engineers will also investigate how fast the camera reaches its coldest point and where the largest heat leaks reside between the various compartments. These thermal tests will then be followed by a vibration test because the instrument will be subjected to extreme vibrations during launch. Based on the test results, the designers will adjust the blueprints for their second version, or look for compensation in other parts of the satellite, such as its cooling power.

“It feels great to see this first model after the project team has been working on it for so long and so hard,” expresses team leader Henk van Weers. “This is the most complex unit that we’ve developed in recent years. Complex due to its compactness and the large number of new technologies we had to develop simultaneously in order to achieve this tangible result. Until now, we’ve tested all sorts of subsystems, but this is the first time that everything has been assembled into a unit that’s small and light enough to be launched.”