Duke of Edinburgh given scale model of XMM on visit to Leicester Space Research Centre
25 February 1999On the occasion of an official visit to Leicestershire on 26 February, His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh visited the Space Research Centre at Leicester University where much of the development work of the XMM EPIC cameras has taken place.
Prince Philip, accompanied by senior representatives of the University, was conducted on his tour of the facility by Professor Alan Wells, Director of the Space Centre. In the design areas and laboratories, the Duke was given an overview of the XMM programme and particularly the EPIC X-ray cameras of ESA's second cornerstone mission. In the clean-room area, he was able to see development models of the instruments and the EPIC camera test facilities.
The Duke was introduced to members of the XMM research teams, including the EPIC Principal Investigator Dr Martin Turner of the X-ray Astronomy Group at Leicester University.
"The Duke showed his considerable knowledge of recent discoveries in astronomy", said Prof.Alan Wells. "He wanted to know how XMM would add to observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope and asked whether we would be able to see a black hole. I responded positively when I explained that we would be able to see the effects of gravity on the X-ray spectra emitted by such sources."
It was at this point that Professor Wells officially presented the Duke of Edinburgh with a 1:50 scale model of the XMM spacecraft, on behalf of the Space Research Centre and the European Space Agency. It is a rare honour to be allowed to make such a gift to a member of the Royal family.
During his visit, the Duke was also presented the Space Research Centre's activities in the field of Earth observation and the design work that is just commencing on the Beagle 2 probe, passenger aboard ESA's Mars Express mission that is planned for launch towards the red planet in 2003.
The EPIC instrument
The three EPIC cameras are the main X-ray science instruments aboard the XMM spacecraft. They have been developed by a consortium of 10 institutes in four nations, in the UK, Italy, France and Germany. The cameras are today integrated into the Focal Plane Assembly of the satellite which recently arrived at Estec for final environmental tests.
At the focal point of the telescope, the camera CCD detectors will record the energy of incoming X-ray photons. Two cameras, equipped with metal oxide semiconductor (MOS) CCDs developed at Leicester University, will register photons in the 'soft' portion of the X-ray spectrum. The third EPIC camera with a different CCD (PN) developed by the Max Planck Institute in Garching Germany, will cover the higher energy or 'hard' part of the spectrum.
Leicester University is doubly concerned in the XMM programme. In addition to the work on the EPIC camera, it is a member of the international Survey Science Centre (SSC) consortium, whose role will be to process the observation data.
Constituting the first phase of the UK's National Space Science Centre, the Leicester Space Research Centre was opened in April 1998. It is part of the Department of Physics and Astronomy of Leicester University which has played a leading role in space research for over 30 years. It has contributed to a multitude of international missions with ESA, NASA, Japan and Germany.