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Monday, 13 December, 1999, 16:39 GMT
XMM takes first snap

XMM'x solar panel and telescope tube, imaged by an on-board camera XMM'x solar panel and telescope tube, imaged by an on-board camera


By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Things are going well for the European Space Agency's X-ray satellite, launched by an Ariane 5 rocket on Friday.

XMM (X-ray Multi-Mirror) observatory is in contact with mission control, its solar panels have deployed and it has even taken pictures of itself.

Just an hour after its launch, radio transmissions from XMM were detected by the Perth ground station in Australia.

Spreading its wings

The main spacecraft control team at the European Space Operations Centre near Frankfurt, Germany nursed the 15-metre spacecraft through its initial in-orbit sequences.


Impression of XMM over Africa Impression of XMM over Africa
Triggered by an onboard timer, the two wings of the solar array opened faultlessly and the telescope sunshield also deployed successfully.

Other activities carried out include the switching on of the star trackers which are essential for the pointing of the observatory and the spacecraft's reaction wheels were spun up allowing it to manoeuvre.

On a large screen in the Main Control Room, an animation showed XMM's position in space, moving away from Earth on its first orbit. Dietmar Heger, spacecraft controller commented: "It's going very, very nicely. Almost better than the simulations we have been through before launch."

Snap happy

The photographs of itself sent back by XMM were taken by two micro-cameras placed on the exterior of the spacecraft's focal plane assembly.

The cameras are of two types: the Fuga camera provides a black and white picture, while the second camera, Iris, has a colour filter and can vary its exposure time. The field of view of both cameras is along the telescope tube towards the service platform and the solar arrays.

They were taken just under five hours after lift-off, when XMM was at an altitude of 55,300 km above the Earth's surface.

In many ways, the XMM complements Nasa's Chandra X-ray observatory launched in the summer.

XMM has a larger collecting area than Chandra but poorer ability to see fine detail. XMM will be better at detecting the very faintest X-ray sources and at distinguishing spectral details in different parts of a source.

XMM is expected to make many important discoveries and be one of the most important space science missions of the coming decade.

Main image: Esa. Other: Dornier Satellitensysteme GmbH

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See also:
10 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
Ariane soars to success
10 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
Ready to X-ray the Universe
30 Nov 99 |  Sci/Tech
X-raying the violent Universe

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