Charged Particle Diverter

The Athena Space Telescope is currently ESA's largest science project, with collaborating institutions and companies from all over Europe. The nearly 12-metre telescope will be carried on a heavy Ariane 6 rocket and placed at a libration point near the Moon, where it will be able to make unobstructed observations. The ATHENA project aims to study the most energetic and largest events in the Universe in the X-ray spectrum - black holes, gamma-ray bursts or the organisation of matter into galaxies, galaxy clusters and filaments

To do this, it will have two instruments: the X-ray Integral Field Unit (X-IFU) and the Wide-Field Imager (WFI), which will focus the light from the main mirror. For the sensitive detectors to serve reliably for the duration of the mission and for the data quality to be as good as possible, heavy charged particles must be removed from the light beam. This is done by so-called magnetic divertors - unique rings that bend the particle stream away from the detectors with a magnetic field. Because this technology will be used for charged protons for the first time, ESA has decided on a preparatory phase where companies prove they are capable of designing and manufacturing a device with the right parameters

Frentech Aerospace, L.K.Engineering and Brno University of Technology have completed the development of the CPD demonstrator in 2020 and only the final tests, postponed due to the Covid19 pandemic, remain to be carried out. The unique structure from LKE, using a combination of high-tech materials such as carbon composites and titanium alloys, will hold tens of kilograms of permanent magnets in the correct array shape. Despite the vibrations of the rocket, the vacuum of space and the large temperature range, the magnets must not move or lose any of their function. Their shape and magnetic field were precisely optimised for the task by scientists from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at the BUT, who simulated the passage of protons through the divertors. At Frentech Aerospace, the entire diverters were assembled in clean rooms with an accuracy of tenths of a millimetre.

The ATHENA project will soon enter the implementation phase and the consortium is already modifying the design for the two main competitors for the production of the SIM science module where the detectors and divertors are located. It is no exaggeration to say that currently Frentech, LKE and VUT are the only ones in Europe with the technology compliant to the demanding divertor needs of the ATHENA mission, thanks to the ESA programme. The Czech project, which is a collaboration between industry and science, may thus help to expand knowledge of the amazingly complex universe we live in.