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AHEAD Report Summary

Project ID: 654215
Funded under: H2020-EU.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - AHEAD (Integrated Activities for the High Energy Astrophysics Domain)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-02-28

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The overall objective of AHEAD is to integrate national efforts in high-energy Astrophysics and to promote the domain at the European level, to keep its community at the cutting edge of science and technology and ensure that space observatories for high-energy astrophysics are at the state of the art. AHEAD will integrate key research infrastructures for on-ground test and calibration of space-based sensors and electronics and promote their coordinated use. In parallel, the best facilities for data analysis of high-energy astrophysical observatories will be made available to the European community. The technological development will focus on the improvement of selected critical technologies, background modeling and cross calibration for the benefit of future high energy missions like Athena, and the best exploitation of existing observatories. The advancement in space oriented instrumentation and cutting-edge sensor technology in Europe will enable the development of new technologies and the growth of the related European market with a dedicated technology innovation package. Through AHEAD, feasibility studies of space-based instrumentation for future gamma-ray missions will be also carried out. Finally, AHEAD will support the community via grants for collaborative studies, dissemination of results, and promotion of workshops, and a strong public outreach package will ensure that the domain is well publicized at national, European and International level. AHEAD activities and their links are visualized in Figure 1.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

AHEAD activities are fostering the development of technology and of the related research infrastructures for high energy Astrophysics. The landmark for AHEAD is the Athena (Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics) mission, the large X-ray observatory that will be launched by ESA in 2028.

At the end of the 1st reporting period, all JRA activities in AHEAD are in line with the planning and are all providing expected results. Three out of the five JRA, JRA1, 2 & 3 (see Figure 1) are focused on technology developments linked to the Athena mission (detectors, background and X-ray optics). The activities carried out in this first period have proved to be very successful. Improvements on the instrument design studied within AHEAD are already being incorporated in the baseline design of the Athena scientific payload (background reduction, mirror assembly). Some of the key technologies developed under the aforementioned JRAs are studied for potential application outside the high energy astronomy in the innovation JRA5, that has already identified a number of promising concepts to be followed on. The gamma-ray JRA4 has developed the scientific priorities and a profile for a future mission concept and it has been successful in clustering the gamma-ray community around key ideas, allowing to converge on a single proposal to ESA for the M5 call.

Networking activities are also proceeding as expected. NA1 is delivering a strong visiting programme, already overbooked by the community and of increasing demand. The workshops and schools organized within NA1 are based on issues with interest on a wide community, that extends beyond the field, and there is indeed a scope to increase event further this part of the programme. The public outreach programme (NA2) is ramping up, delivering excellent products (video, PR, educational material) that reach thousands of people. The AHEAD dome (for planetary) video on high energy Astrophysics has received an international prize, it has been already translated in seven different languages, and is being played in 200 planetaria all over the world.

The two TA have offered data analysis and test facilities to the community in 3 Announcements of Opportunity as planned within this first period.
The TA2/Data analysis program has been exploited by the community in line with planning, actually with an increasing interest, with an overbooking that reached a factor of 1.7 in the 3rd AO call. The overall access to experimental facilities has been under-requested compared to expectations, however, recovery actions have been taken following the risk analysis described in the proposal (improving dissemination, increasing the role of facilities in the publicity of the AHEAD call, facilitating even further the procedures for access). This has been somewhat effective in increasing the demand by the community, as verified in the latest two months.

All the milestones and deliveries related to the fist reporting period have been closed.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Three out of the five JRA, JRA1, 2 & 3 are focused on technology developments linked to the Athena mission (detectors, background and X-ray optics). The activities carried out in this first period have proved to be very successful and have identified a number of improvements beyond the state of the art on the instrument technologies and design. This will enhance the science return which is extremely important for the major X-ray facility which will become operational at the end of the next decade (space projects have a very long development cycle).

Sensors and their read-out progressed in JRA1 as desired with an improved physical understanding of the devices with a number of improvements beyond the Athena baseline were identified and the corresponding read-out electronics is currently under production. Different options to use the anti-coincidence detector, with a prime goal to suppress signals from cosmic rays and/or secondaries generated in the structure, for extending the response of the detectors to higher energies have been explored and with the proper choice this will be feasible without major impact on the detector design. In particular the implementation of a passive layer to reduce the background (JRA2) is now incorporated in the design of the XIFU Athena Instrument. Similar study of the other instrument, the WFI, has identified a similar design to reduce its background. Mirror related activities carried out in JRA3 have identified a procedure for improving the calibration and accommodation of the mirror modules of the Athena X-ray telescope. This is also incorporated in the Athena project.

Other mirror configurations being studied in AHEAD include the LOBSTER-eye, that allows wide-field X-ray observations yet retaining the focusing of photons. The implementation in AHEAD of a publicly available simulation software, that allows to simulate the telescope response, is being used to improve the Lobster mirrors in missions like SVOM (French-China) or Theseus (ESA).

The gamma-ray mission concept e-ASTROGAM has been proposed to European Space Agency (ESA) by a federated European Gamma-ray Community largely "powered" by AHEAD WP9. e-ASTROGAM is presently amongst the concepts that are considered for an assessment phase with ESA for the fifth Medium-size mission (M5) of the Cosmic Vision Science Programme.

Finally, the investigation of possible application of the AHEAD technologies in other fields than astrophysical research has led to the selection of few potential on-ground uses. The most promising follow-on appear to be the use TES detector in a PIXE (Particle Induced X-ray Emission) system suited for non-invasive analysis on arts/archeology items or for high-sensitivity environmental mesurements.

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