Press Release

ESA’s X-ray space observatory XMM takes first pictures

By SpaceRef Editor
February 2, 2000
Filed under

The European Space Agency’s X-ray space observatory has taken its very first pictures giving new views on the Universe. The commissioning images confirm that the XMM spacecraft, its X-ray telescopes and science instruments are functioning perfectly, to the great satisfaction of all involved.

Under the aegis of Prof. Roger Bonnet, ESA Director of Science, the mission’s Principal Investigators will be presenting these spectacular first images at a press conference to be held on 9 February at the ESA Vilspa facility at Villafranca/Madrid in Spain, where the XMM Science Operations Centre is located. The event will also be the occasion for several major announcements concerning the XMM mission.

In particular Professor Bonnet will launch the third XMM competition "Stargazing" – previously announced in September 1999. This will address European youngsters, 16 to 18 years old, who will be offered the unique opportunity of winning observing time using the X-ray telescope.

Commissioning phase starts

After a successful launch from Kourou on Ariane 504 on 10 December 1999, XMM was brought to its final operational orbit in the following week. The telescope doors on the X-ray Mirror Modules and on the Optical Monitor telescope were opened on 17/18 December. The Radiation Monitor was activated on 19 December and the spacecraft was put into a quiet mode over the Christmas and New Year period.

The mission’s scientific data is being received, processed and dispatched to astronomers by the XMM Science Operations Centre in Villafranca. Operations with the spacecraft restarted there on 4 January when, as part of the commissioning phase, all the science payloads were switched on one after the other for initial verifications. By the week of 17 January functional tests had begun on the Optical Monitor, the EPIC pn, the two EPIC MOS and the two RGS instruments. The internal doors of the EPIC cameras were opened whilst keeping the camera filter wheels closed.

Astounding first images

After a series of engineering exposures, all three EPIC cameras were used in turn, between 19-24 January, to take several views of two different extragalactic regions of the Universe. These views, featuring a variety of extended and X-ray point sources, were chosen to demonstrate the full functioning of the observatory. The Optical Monitor also simultaneously viewed the same regions. One RGS spectrometer obtained its first spectra on 25 January; the other will be commissioned at the start of February.

This initial series of short and long duration exposures have delighted the Project management team and the scientists even more. First analyses confirm that the spacecraft is extremely stable, the XMM telescopes are focusing perfectly, and the EPIC cameras, Optical Monitor and RGS spectrometers are working exactly as expected. The Science Operations Centre infrastructure, processing and archiving the science data telemetry from the spacecraft, is also performing well.

Initial inspection of the first commissioning images immediately showed some unique X-ray views of several celestial objects, to be presented on 9 February. The occasion will give Principal Investigators and Project management the opportunity to comment on the pictures and the excellent start of the XMM mission.

The Calibration and Performance Verification phase for XMM’s science instruments is to begin on 3 March, with routine science operations starting in June.


* * *

Press is invited to attend to the press conference that will be held at the Villafranca/ Madrid- Vilspa facility (ESAís Satellite Tracking Station) Apartado 50727, E-2 080 MADRID, Spain.

The press event will be broadcast to the other ESA establishments:

ESA Headquarters, Paris; ESA/ ESTEC (Space Expo), Noordwijk, the Netherlands; ESA/ESOC, Darmstadt, Germany and ESA/ESRIN, Frascati, Italy. Media representatives wishing to attend the event are kindly requested to fill out the attached reply from and fax it back to the establishment of their choice.

For more information, please contact :

ESA ñ Communication Division

Media Relations Office

Tel: +33(0)

Fax: +33(0)

Dr. Fred Jansen, XMM Project Scientist

ESA ñ Estec (Noordwijk, The Netherlands)

Tel: +31 71 565 4426


For further information on XMM visit the ESA science web pages at

For further information on ESA;


Press event agenda

09:30 Doors open/Accreditation


10:00 Welcome & Introduction

Why are we in Spain ? Past and future scientific projects overview

(from IUE and ISO to XMM)

Prof. R. Bonnet, ESAís Director of Science

10:05 Status of the spacecraft and telescope

F. Jansen, ESAís XMM Project Scientist


10:10 Presentation of the selected pictures

Principal Investigators, moderation by M. Ransom

11:40 Scientific expectations

F. Jansen, ESAís XMM Project Scientist

11:45 Major announcements & Conclusions

Prof. R.Bonnet, ESAís Director of Science

11:55 Questions & Answers session

Moderation by M. Ransom

Possibility of individual interviews





XMM first images presented at ESA’s Vilspa

9 February 2000 – 09h30 – 12h30

Villafranca/ Madrid, Spain


First Name: _________________ Surname: ____________________________


Media: _________________________________________________________


Telephone: ___________________ Cell Phone: _________________________


Fax: _____________________ e-mail: _________________________________



I intend to follow the XMM first images event at the following centre:


( ) Spain: ESA/ Villafranca- Vilspa Tracking station

Apartado 50727, Madrid, Spain

Contact person : Fany PeZ

Tel. + 34 1 813 12.11, Fax +34 1 813 12 12


Rebroadcast of the event only:


( ) France: ESA/Head Office

Address: 8-10 Rue Mario Nikis, 75015 Paris

Contact person: Anne-Marie Rémondin

Tel. + 33 (0)1 5369 7155 Fax: + 33 (0)1 5369 7690


( ) Germany: ESA/ ESOC

Address: Robert Bosch Strasse 5, Darmstadt, D-64293

Contact person: Jocelyne Landeau-Constantin

Tel +49 6151 90 26 96, Fax+ 49 6151 90 29 61


( ) The Netherlands: ESA/ ESTEC

Address: Keplerlaan 3, 2201 AZ Noordwijk

Contact person: Heidi Graf

Tel: + 31 71 565 3006, Fax: + 31 71 565 5728


( ) Italy: ESA/ESRIN- Frascati

Address: via Galileo Galilei, 00044 Frascati (Rome)

Contact person: Franca Morgia

Tel: + 39 06 9418 0951, Fax. + 39 06 9418 0952



Villafranca lies approximately 30km from the centre of Madrid. The motorways M-40 and M-503 link VILSPA with Madrid.


From Barajas (Madrid Airport follow the A-10 motorway and take the beltway M-40 direction North. Follow the M-40 for approximately 25 kms and leave the motorway at junction 41 (Majadahonda) sign M-503 and follow the indications given in the last paragraph.


To reach VILSPA from the center of Madrid, follow the signs to the highway A-6 or N-VI (direction to Villalba ) and continue along N-VI until you reach at junction 11. At junction 11, exit N-VI and enter motorway M-40 (direction to Toledo, Talavera, N-IV, N-V). Continue for approximately 4 km and leave the motorway at junction 41 and join the motorway M-503 (direction to Majadahonda).


After apprx. 4 kms on M-503 exit at junction 8, follow the signs to M-516 (Boadilla, Majadahonda).

At the first roundabout turn left and cross over the motorway. Continue in direction to Boadilla. Pass the

second roundabout. At the third roundabout, turn to the left (ESA sign – direction to El Escorial/Valdemorillo /Villanueva del Pardillo). Follow M-503 until the next roundabout (approx. 6 km). Go to the left and follow the road for about 2 km.

SpaceRef staff editor.