ESA scaling back design of X-ray astronomy mission

WASHINGTON — Confronted inside growing prices, the European House Company is on the lookout for methods to revise the design of a big X-ray area telescope, an effort that might have implications for NASA’s personal astrophysics applications.

ESA chosen the Athena mission in 2014 as one in every of two flagship astrophysics missions, together with the Laser Interferometer House Antenna (LISA). Athena — a reputation derived from Superior Telescope for Excessive-Power Astrophysics — would launch by the mid-2030s to check supermassive black holes, supernova explosions and different sources of X-rays utilizing a big X-ray mirror.

On the time of choice, every mission has an estimated price to ESA of 1.05 billion euros ($1.07 billion), or about 1.17 billion euros right this moment, mentioned Paul McNamara, ESA astronomy and astrophysics coordinator, throughout a July 21 presentation to NASA’s astronomy and astrophysics committee. By 2019, although, the mixed value of Athena and LISA had grown to 2.5 billion euros.

As of Could 2022, LISA has an estimated price of 1.5 billion euros, however Athena had grown to 1.9 billion euros. This got here whilst Athena was making good technical progress, he mentioned, similar to in growth of latest light-weight mirror know-how.

A lot of the latest enhance, he mentioned, got here after member states that had deliberate to make their very own contributions to the mission backed out. “A number of of the member states concluded that they have been unable to meet their commitments,” he mentioned, “they usually requested ESA to take over their accountability.” That elevated the price to ESA for Athena.

“These prices usually are not sustainable,” he mentioned. “If we wish to keep the various content material that’s on the coronary heart of our program, we have now to chop the price of our massive missions.”

McNamara mentioned there aren’t any plans by ESA to cancel Athena, however the company is as a substitute contemplating a “rescoped” mission of some type with a value of not more than 1.3 billion euros. “We now have to rescope the Athena mission to considerably cut back its price.”

That rescoped mission, at present dubbed NewAthena, would doubtless contain scaling again its science. “In the intervening time, it doesn’t seem possible that we are able to attain the 1.3 [billion euro] goal, the price to completion for ESA, whereas sustaining the total science goals of the mission,” he mentioned.

That effort will contain potential modifications to its instrument configuration in addition to creation of a science “redefinition” workforce to rethink science goals. The purpose can be to develop a revised idea, known as a minimal disrupted mission, that may price ESA not more than 1.3 billion euros however nonetheless carry out science anticipated of a flagship-class mission.

What meaning for the schedule of Athena is unclear. McNamara mentioned ESA is getting ready to “undertake,” or transfer into the subsequent part of growth, both Athena or LISA in November 2023. The opposite can be adopted in 2024 or 2025.

One other uncertainty is the funding that can be accessible within the subsequent few years for Athena and LISA, one thing that ESA member states will determine on the subsequent ministerial council assembly in November. “In the intervening time we’re assuming a possible stage of sources for the long run,” he mentioned. “If we don’t get that, we don’t know what’s going to occur.”

A redesign of Athena may additionally have an effect on NASA. The company is contributing {hardware} for one instrument on Athena in addition to different sources, similar to testing and calibration services for its X-ray mirror. McNamara mentioned ESA officers have been involved with their NASA counterparts about plans for Athena.

He added ESA wouldn’t rule out elevated cooperation with NASA as a way of decreasing ESA’s price for the revised Athena mission. “No door is closed,” he mentioned. “We’re on the lookout for any manner we are able to attempt to get the very best mission doable inside the programmatic constraints.”

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