38m super lightweight mirror chosen for ChineseFrench space mission

The University has announced the signature of a contract to develop an innovative new type of X-ray mirror for a telescope to be flown on an orbiting observatory to be launched in 2021.

The Space Variable Objects Monitor (SVOM) is a joint Chinese-French satellite observatory. Designed to study the most powerful explosions in the Universe out to the era of the first generation of stars, SVOM will locate hundreds of gamma-ray bursts signifying the deaths of massive stars.

Scientists from the Space Research Centre and engineering staff in the Department of Physics and Astronomy have developed a unique capability to make a new kind of super-light-weight X-ray focussing optic. The new ‘Lobster’ X-ray mirror for SVOM weighs just one kilo and is easy to launch into orbit.

Professor Julian Osborne, who is leading this work at Leicester explained: “Lobsters and similar animals use reflecting mirrors to focus light in their eyes, unlike the lenses used by people. We can make man-made Lobster-type mirrors with the very high degree of smoothness needed to focus X-rays, and make them robust enough to survive the rigours of a rocket launch.”

The Leicester team has secured a contract from the French Space Agency, CNES, for the manufacture of a Lobster X-ray focussing optic for SVOM that has a value of £3.8M. The final version of the optic to be launched will be delivered to CNES at the end of 2019.