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05-06-2020 - Our commitments for World Environment Day

On World Environment Day, it is a perfect opportunity to share our efforts to reduce the environmental impact of the X-IFU Consortium, and in particular our experience as testing ground for a new travel footprint calculator.

Since 2019, our main environmental commitment is to reduce the travel footprint of the Consortium members for X-IFU activities. X-IFU’s Principal Investigator, Didier Barret, has developed a travel footprint calculator to help the scientific community reduce its environmental impact. It was first tested for travels to X-IFU meetings as a way to better understand the exact travel footprint of the Consortium. As an international partnership, with members based on three continents, involving a lot of travels, it was an ideal testing ground.

Thanks to this tool, it was estimated that the yearly travel footprint of the Consortium was around 500 tons of Co2-eq. It also allowed us to evaluate the site of minimum emissions for the organization of future meetings.

This prompted important discussions between members regarding the steps to take in order to reduce this amount. Last year, it was thus decided by the Consortium board and in agreement with members to:

  • Reduce the number of physical consortium meetings (from twice to once a year);
  • Make the best use of people’s travels by organizing side-meetings and thus reduce the need for additional travels;
  • Select the site of minimum emission for physical meetings;
  • Switch to virtual meetings when possible.

The covid-19 crisis accelerated these changes and in April we tested the organization of a full-scale virtual Consortium meeting with up to 171 participants (an evaluation is available here). An estimated 80 tons of CO2-eq were avoided. This proved to be a positive experience and showed the potential of virtual meetings for X-IFU.

We are already looking into strengthening our environmental commitments and planning the next steps. There is a growing support in the scientific community for such initiatives and we are hoping that our experience will encourage others, individuals and organisations, to take actions as well.

The travel footprint calculator is available online for free and everyone is welcome to use it for their own purposes. If you wish to know more about the research behind it, it is explained in this scientific paper.

For more information about the World Environment Day, you can visit the UNEP website. If you wish to share your own commitments today, you can use the hashtags #WorldEnvironmentDay and #ForNature on social media.


28-05-2020 - New Video: Discover the heart of the X-IFU

A brand-new video about the X-IFU (X-ray Integral Field Unit) is now available. You will discover the heart of the instrument: its X-ray detection chain.

This new video about the X-IFU is a deep dive into the heart of the instrument. For about two minutes, discover the X-IFU’s detection chain: from the collection of photons by the mirror of the telescope to the data sent back to Earth. The video will reveal the many elements that form the detection chain and are all necessary for the instrument to accomplish all its promises.

The engineers and researchers of the X-IFU consortium are currently developing the innovative technologies used in the detection chain. Thanks to their skills and expertise, the X-IFU will measure the energy of each photon with unprecedented accuracy. This will enable astrophysicists to explore the regions from which the X-ray are emitted, providing, for instance, breakthrough information about the formation and evolution of the large structures of matter observed in the Universe.

This video comes at a time when the X-IFU Consortium is cruising through the preliminary definition phase of the instrument, a key step in the development of the X-IFU.

We would like to give special thanks for their valuable contributions and feedback to our colleagues from IRAP, APC Laboratory, CNES, Goddard, NIST, and SRON.

A first video introducing the X-IFU was released last year, you can watch it here:

The new video is available in English and French, with subtitles currently in English, Czech, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish.

14-05-2020 - The X-IFU Gazette #14 has been released!

The 14th issue of the X-IFU Gazette has been released!

As we move through the Covid-19 pandemic, I first hope that this newsletter finds you and yours healthy and safe. Working conditions for most of us have changed dramatically, from a very interactive environment to a rather isolated one in an office at home, and virtual-only interactions.

Project activities have continued at a regular and intense pace, mostly through video-conferencing. Thanks to the improvements of digital technologies, we have been able to run a full audience consortium meeting via Zoom. Maëva Voltz will report our lessons learned from that rather unique experience. Who ever said that the X-IFU was a smooth and quiet project? At the start of Phase B1, a new procurement scheme for the Dewar is now under consideration. It will be provided through an ESA funded industrial contract. Vincent Albouys and I will come back to this new situation for us. We will also address the status of the Detector Cooling System (DCS) as a key element of the technology demonstration at the Mission Adoption Review (MAR). Randy Doriese on behalf of our NIST, Stanford and Goddard colleagues will tell us all about Time Domain Multiplexing (TDM) which is the new baseline readout scheme to X-IFU. Communicating toward the public is mandatory, because at the end of the day, the funding of X-IFU is through citizens’ money, and it is justified to tell the public why and how we plan to spend it. Maëva has been coordinating the production of a new movie produced by Fab&Fab, presenting the heart of X-IFU. With the release of exclusive images, she will introduce the movie and the key contributors. This newsletter will conclude by highlighting the German contribution to the X-IFU and the bio of Professor Joern Wilms who is the German representative in the X-IFU Consortium Board.

Didier Barret
X-IFU Principal Investigator

14-05-2020 - Exclusive images of the next X-IFU video

The new X-IFU video about the heart of the instrument will be published in just a few weeks. As we are all impatiently waiting, we have a little treat for you. Below are some exclusives images from the video.

We have described the creative process for this video in a newsletter article, find it here.

If you have missed the teaser, it's available on our YouTube channel:

This is an artist’s impression of the X-IFU’s Focal Plane Assembly. Credits: X-IFU Consortium.

This is an artist’s impression of the X-IFU’s TES array. Credits: X-IFU Consortium.

This is an artist’s impression of the X-IFU’s micro-calorimeters. Credits: X-IFU Consortium.

This is an artist’s impression of Earth for the X-IFU video. Credits: X-IFU Consortium.

10-04-2020 - The X-IFU Consortium meeting #11 goes virtual

This week, from 6th to 9th of April, the X-IU held its 11th Consortium meeting (CM11), fully virtually for the first time. This proved to be a very positive experience and both X-IFU’s Principal Investigator and Project Manager praised the high quality of the exchanges.

This CM11 was originally supposed to take place in Liège, Belgium. However, due to the COVID-19, the meeting had to be switched to a virtual one. This virtual setting allowed for a greater number of participants than expected during these meetings. Up to 171 people tuned in during the plenary session. With the time zones differences, this meant early mornings for our colleagues in the US, and late nights for our colleagues in Japan. Their participation was thus greatly appreciated.

Another highly positive aspect was the impact on the Consortium’s travel footprint. While a virtual event still has an environmental impact, an estimated 80 tons of CO2 were avoided thanks to this change. This has been a major concern for the Consortium over the past year, you can find out more about it in this article.

As during a regular CM, several sessions were held simultaneously. All with remarkable attendance. Several sub-plenaries took place, as well as meetings of the various X-IFU bodies, and the week ended on Thursday with a Project Managers’ meeting

Among many other topics, a key discussion during CM11 was related to the switch from Frequency Domain Multiplexing to Time Domain Multiplexing. Keep an eye out for the next X-IFU newsletter for more information on this.

Lastly, albeit virtual, this Consortium meeting remained a perfect opportunity to present the teaser for the new X-IFU video to be released in May 2020. You can find it on X-IFU’s YouTube channel:

We would like to thank all the speakers and participants for kindly adapting to these changes and helping us make this CM11 a success.


Whether it is a virtual or a physical meeting, the X-IFU Consortium never misses the opportunity to take its group picture (and these are only the ones with the video turned on).


08-04-2020 - TEASER: Discover the heart of the X-IFU

The X-IFU team has been working on a brand new video and we have a great teaser to share with you. In May 2020, discover the heart of the X-IFU on our YouTube channel!


16-01-2020 - The X-IFU Gazette #13 has been released!

The 13th issue of the X-IFU Gazette has been released!

After all the exceptional achievements of 2019, it is now time to start this new year with the same determination and look forward to many more successes.

To open this first newsletter of 2020, Gregor Rauw, from the University of Liège, will deliver the latest information about our next X-IFU Consortium Meeting and especially about our host for the week, the Belgian city of Liège. We take this opportunity to remind you that registration is mandatory to attend the meeting.

Our Principal Investigator, Didier Barret, and Project Manager, Vincent Albouys, will give us some insights into two important reviews that took place at the end of last year: Athena's Mission Formulation Review and the Critical Design Review of the Detector cooling system. Didier will also briefly describe the excellent outcome of ESA’s Council at Ministerial level.

Then, Gregor, as X-IFU Science Co-Investigator and Belgian representative in the X-IFU Consortium Board, will give us an overview of the Belgian contribution to the instrument and their expertise in the X-ray field. As is customary in this newsletter, he will also take part in the exercise of summarizing his own career.

Following the commitments taken in 2019 to reduce the environmental impact of the consortium, Didier will highlight the growing support in the scientific community for such initiatives and introduce his travel footprint calculator.

Lastly, our colleagues from the Centre Spatial de Liège kept their promise and will present the brand new X-IFU beers.

Happy reading!

21-12-2019 - Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!

To celebrate the end of this year, please find below a message from our Principal Investigator, Didier Barret, and our Project Manager, Vincent Albouys:


Dear colleagues and friends,

Here is the time again to wrap up another year of the life of our beautiful X-IFU project. 2019 was clearly very important for X-IFU, after the successful Instrument Preliminary Requirement Review in April and the successful Athena Mission Formulation Review earlier in November. Athena is now on a safe path towards mission adoption. It was only one year ago that the X-IFU consortium was formally appointed by ESA, and its organization also successfully passed through those two reviews.

As we are cruising into phase B, priorities are also set for ramping up the technology demonstration activities (e.g. the Detector Cooling System), consolidating the interfaces of the X-IFU with the science instrument module, freezing the instrument performance requirements. All of this is required for the writing of the red book in support of the mission adoption, scheduled for November 2021, prior to which the Instrument System Requirement Review is expected to take place at the beginning of 2021.

And of course, in 2020, we shall all embark on a mission to reduce the carbon footprint of X-IFU related activities by at least a factor of 2, with a goal of reducing it by 4.

So, may 2020 be as successful as was 2019.

On behalf of the X-IFU Consortium, we wish you happy holidays and a happy New Year!

Best regards,
Didier and Vincent


17-10-2019 - The X-IFU Gazette #12 has been released!

The 12th issue of the X-IFU Gazette has been released!

For this issue, our contributors from IRAP, CNES and the University of Geneva have prepared some great articles about the latest updates on the instrument, its sub-systems and the consortium.

You will find below the table of content:

  1. Editorial
  2. A successful CM10 in Toulouse
  3. What is PaCSXI2?
  4. Interfaces: The core of system engineering
  5. Microvibration – Macroscopic approach
  6. CM11: April 6th to 10th in Liège
  7. Key measures to reduce our travel footprint
  8. The Swiss contribution to Athena X-IFU
  9. Bio: Stéphane Paltani

23-09-2019 - The X-IFU Consortium meeting #10

The 10th X-IFU Consortium Meeting was hosted by IRAP in Toulouse from Monday 16th to Friday 20th of September. Participants met during various splinters and all together for the two days of plenary sessions. The programme was rich in topics related to activities triggered by the Instrument Preliminary Requirement Review (IPRR), which was held and concluded positively before the summer. Overall, it was agreed that the level of definition of all corners of the instrument keeps raising. Additionally, this was the first consortium meeting led by the recently appointed Project Manager from CNES, Vincent Albouys.

An important upcoming activity for the project is the Mission formulation Review (MFR) which will be carried out over the next months by the European Space Agency. The instrument itself will not be under review as the objective of the MFR is mainly to confirm the feasibility of Athena. It will be concluded by a board meeting scheduled for November 12th.

Of great significance, the X-IFU Consortium board agreed to reduce the number of physical meetings and optimize each of them in order to lower by at least a half the travel footprint of the project. From now on, we will move to only one consortium meeting a year, together with two meetings of the X-IFU project managers. This proposal was introduced by the Principal Investigator, Didier Barret, who provided members of the Consortium with a tool to estimate their own travel footprint and raise their awareness on their own environmental impact.

On a lighter note, the whole consortium got to enjoy the X-IFU Cuvée “A la Thien” which was selected by our very own X-IFU wine selection committee to celebrate the successful IPRR of the project.

Thanks to the hard work put in by the entire consortium, the X-IFU is on the path to its next milestone, the Mission Adoption Review, which will be preceded by the System Requirement Review. The next X-IFU Consortium meeting will be held in April 2020, jointly hosted by the Centre Spatial de Liège and the University of Liège in Belgium.

X-IFU Consortium Meeting #10