Astronomical Facilities

The X-Ray and Observational Astronomy group has participated in every major high-energy astrophysics satellite, has been heavily involved in the design of space instrumentation and is also preparing for a number of future projects. The group's involvement in these is displayed below, with links to the relevant pages:

Current Projects


XMM-Newton is Europe's X-ray space telescope, named in memory of Issac Newton. The Earth's atmosphere absorbs cosmic X-rays, so space-based instruments are required for X-ray astronomy. XMM-Newton is dedicated to observing the extreme astronomical objects that emit X-rays.


Swift is a US/UK/Italian satellite designed to study gamma-ray bursts. Launched on November 20, 2004, it includes a wide area Burst Alert Telescope and narrow field X-ray and UV/optical telescopes. The Swift satellite is unique in that it can autonomously detect gamma ray bursts and re-point within a few seconds, so catching them when they are still bright.


UKIDSS is the next generation near-infrared sky survey, the successor to 2MASS. UKIDSS began in May 2005 and will survey 7500 square degrees of the Northern sky, extending over both high and low Galactic latitudes, in JHK to K=18.3.


SuperWASP is the UK's leading extra-solar planet detection program comprising of a consortium of eight academic institutions which include Cambridge University, the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, the Isaac Newton Group of telescopes, Keele University, Leicester University, the Open University, Queen's University Belfast and St. Andrew's University. It is expected that SuperWASP will revolutionise our understanding of planet formation paving the way for future space missions searching for 'Earth' like worlds.


J-PEX, which stands for Joint astrophysical Plasmadynamic EXperiment, is a high resolution extreme ultraviolet camera. The mission objective was to detect the helium signature in a spectrum from the white dwarf star G191-B2B, and determine whether it was present in the star photosphere or in the interstellar medium. The mission was a collaboration between the University of Leicester, the United States Naval Research Laboratory and Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

Future Projects

James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is planned for launch in 2018 as a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. It will be optimised for operation at near- to mid-infrared wavelengths (0.6-28 microns) to enable exploration of the high redshift and obscured universe. Its primary mirror will be over twice the diameter of the Hubble mirror making it more than 400 times more sensitive than current ground-based or space infrared telescopes.


GAIA is an European (ESA) 5 year space mission to measure the position of about 1 billion stars with unprecedented accuracy, launched in December 2013. GAIA's main goal is to considerably improve our knowledge of how the distance to "nearby" objects: most stars measured by GAIA are close to us in astronomical terms.


The Advanced Telescope for High-energy Astrophysics (Athena+) is being proposed to ESA as the L2 mission (for a launch in 2028) and is specifically designed to answer two of the most pressing questions for astrophysics in the forthcoming decade: How did ordinary matter assemble into the large scale structures we see today? and how do black holes grow and shape the Universe? For addressing these two issues, Athena+ will provide transformational capabilities in terms of angular resolution, effective area, spectral resolution, grasp, that will make it the most powerful X-ray observatory ever flown. Such an observatory, when opened to the astronomical community, will be used for virtually all classes of astrophysical objects, from high-z gamma-ray bursts to the closest planets in our solar neighbourhood.

World Space Observatory

The World Space Observatory Project is a new space mission concept, grown out of the needs of the Astronomical community to have access to the part of the electromagnetic spectrum where all known physics can be studied on all possible time scales: the Ultraviolet range. The physical diagnostics in this domain supply a richness of new experimental data unmatched by any other wavelength range, for the studies of the Universe.


Astrosat is India's first national astronomy satellite and is scheduled for launch in Autumn 2014. It has broadband coverage ranging from the ultraviolet to gamma-ray. Leicester will provide the CCD camera for the soft X-ray telescope (SXT).


The Wide-field X-ray telescope (WFT), an imaging instrument of unprecented grasp, forms part of the core payload of the new Spectrum Roentgen-Gamma (SRG) - an observatory class mission to be launched by Soyuz/Fregat from Baikonur (an image of the SRG is shown in the WFT button on the right). The modular WFT instrument uses novel low-mass microchannel plate optics to provide unparalleled coverage of the 0.2-4 keV X-ray sky during the nominal 5-year lifetime of SRG. The University of Leicester provides overall project management, instrument design authority and procurement and calibration of X-ray optics modules for the UK instrument team.


The international CTA project is an initiative to build the next generation ground-based gamma-ray observatory, sensitive to the highest energy photons (with billion times higher energies than X-rays) know from cosmic sources. CTA is currently in a prototyping phase with Leicester playing a major role in the overall design of the instrument and prototyping a new concept ultra-fast camera (see here for more details). First CTA science will take place from 2016, with the instrument reaching full sensitivity by 2020.

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