July 19, 2016


ESA's X-ray space observatory is unique. It is the biggest scientific satellite ever built in Europe, its mirrors are amongst the most powerful ever developed in the world, and its cameras are the most sensitive in X-ray to this day.

The total length of XMM-Newton is 10 metres, and when its solar arrays are deployed, the satellite has a 16-metre span. The Prime contractor Dornier Satellitensysteme (Friedrichshafen, Germany- part of DaimlerChrysler Aerospace) has led an industrial consortium involving 46 companies from 14 European countries and one in the United States. Media Lario, Como, Italy, developed the X-ray Mirror Modules. Although the nominal mission is for two years, XMM-Newton has been designed and built to operate for ten years.

XMM-Newton satellite picture and diagram
XMM-Newton satellite picture and diagram

XMM-Newton is a three-axis stabilized spacecraft with a pointing accuracy of one arcsec. Launch mass is 3.8 tonnes. The satellite is made up of a service module bearing the X-ray Mirror Modules, propulsion and electrical systems, a long telescope tube, and the focal plane assembly carrying the following science instruments:

  • Three EPIC cameras (European Photon Imaging Camera) produced by a consortium made up of ten Institutes in four nations: the UK, Italy, France and Germany. The EPIC Principal Investigator is Prof. Martin Turner of the X-ray Astronomy Group at Leicester University, UK. One of the cameras uses a new type of CCD (PN) developed by the Max Planck Institute of extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany.

  • Two RGS units (Reflection Grating Spectrometer), The Principal Investigator is Jelle Kaastra of the High-Energy Astronomy division SRON, Utrecht Netherlands with co-Investigator Steven Kahn from Columbia University, NY USA.

  • One OM (Optical Monitor) co-aligned with the main X-ray telescope, gives the XMM-Newton mission a multi-wavelength capacity. The Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) UK has supplied this 30 cm aperture Richtey-Chretien telescope (with a 170 - 600 nanometre spectral range). The OM Principal Investigator is Prof. Keith Mason.

  • One ERMS (EPIC Radiation Monitor System) particle detector, developed by the Centre d'Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements (CESR) in Toulouse, France. Its role is to measure the radiation levels in the Earth's radiation belts and in solar flares, radiations that can perturb the sensitive CCD detectors of the main science instruments.