The ATHENA observatory (Advanced Telescope for High-energy Astrophysics) is a major goal in SRON's programme. ATHENA will consist of a large X-ray telescope focussing on two instruments: a wide field imager (WFI) and an X-ray integral field unit spectrometer (X-IFU). The mission is schedule for launch in 2028 as ESA's L2 mission, the second Large-class mission in ESA's Cosmic Vision science programme, and will last for a minimun of 5 years. ATHENA is specifically designed to answer two of the most pressing questions for astrophysics: how did ordinary matter assemble into the large scale structures we see today? and how do black holes grow and shape the Universe?
ATHENA has quite a history:
- end-1990s, discussions start on the follow-up of ESA's XMM-Newton (launched in 1999)
- the proposed follow-up, XEUS, is not selected for the ESA Cosmic Vision L1 call
- EU and US consortia merge into IXO instead of XEUS
- ESA requires a EU-led mission in 2011 and IXO becomes Athena
- ATHENA is still down-selected
- ATHENA becomes Athena+ in 2013
- the ATHENA + science theme, "the hot and energetic Universe”, is selected by ESA in Nov 2013
- ATHENA is selected by ESA in June 2014.