ESA's ATHENA project

Athena telescope

Silicon mirrors in space

We are proud to be part of such a unique project.” Ronny van ’t Oever, CEO and founder Micronit.

The European Space Agency (ESA) started project Athena a couple of years ago. The project aims to study very hot and energetic phenomena in the universe by using the Athena X-ray Telescope. This is ESA’s second major mission and part of their Cosmic Vision program. It has a planned launch date for 2035. With the Athena X-ray telescope scientists hope to answer two big scientific questions:

  • How and why ordinary matter clumps together to form galaxies?

  • How do black holes grow and affect their environment?

It is expected that Athena will do observations for at least five, but possibly even ten years. The telescope will have two instruments: a camera-cum spectrometer (X-ray Integral Field Unit, X-IFU) and a wide-area camera (Wide Field Imager, WFI).

SPO: a revolutionary optical system

Dutch research institute SRON has been asked to develop an ultra-sensitive detector for the Athena X-ray telescope’s camera and company Cosine will provide advanced mirrors to catch space rays which can then be seen on the detector. These mirrors are a revolutionary optical system, for which stacked thin plates of silicon act as a lens that will lead the caught X-ray light to the two instruments, the camera-cum spectrometer, and the wide-area camera. This called Silicon Pore Optics (SPO). For the production of these advanced mirrors, Cosine contacted Micronit and we of course gladly accepted the challenge and the opportunity to be part of such a unique project.

Micronit’s silicon mirrors

At this moment, Micronit is working on the silicon plates that form this optical system, meeting ESA’s requirements. The mirrors, consisting of stacked thin plates of silicon, are processed in our cleanroom located in Enschede, the Netherlands.