ATHENA mission – Instrument Selection Mechanism (ISM)

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Athena ISM preliminary design concept Athena
ISM preliminary design concept
  • Client: ESA
  • Start date:
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The purpose of ATHENA (Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics) is to study the hot and energetic universe and obtain information about black holes and how they relate to the creation of galaxies and groups of galaxies. It combines
a huge X-ray telescope with powerful scientific instruments that, according to the ESA, will make it possible to study astronomical phenomena such as gamma ray bursts, the hot gas that surrounds galaxy clusters, the magnetic interaction
between exoplanets and their respective stars, auroras of Jupiter, and comets in our own solar system. Athena is the second L-class (large) scientific mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) within the scientific program Cosmic Vision.

SENER has been awarded the contract to design, test and supply the prototype of the Instrument Selection Mechanism (ISM) whose task is to direct the mirror to one of two onboard measuring devices.

The ATHENA telescope carries two independent instruments: a spectrometer (X-IFU) and a Wide Field Imager (WFI) camera, which will share a single focal point provided by the X-ray telescope itself. The ISM allows changing the mirror focal position from one instrument to another. The ISM therefore enables to use a single large mirror for two instruments, which is not a common solution.

SENER is going to implement several innovations to overcome the project’s many challenges, which include: the huge loads induced during launch, due to the considerable mass of the mirror; damping and shock attenuation during the launch. The core task of the mechanism during a mission and also the main engineering task of SENER is to design a very precise positioning system of the mirror with a design goal to minimize the loads transferred to spacecraft. Thus, the main challenge is to create a comprehensive system that will protect the mirror during flight and allow for precise positioning mechanism with respect to the two instruments. A 6 degrees of freedom hexapod was selected as a baseline, similarly to another hexapod already designed by SENER for IBDM (International Berthing and Docking Mechanism).

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