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July 24, 2008
Announcing: The International X-ray Observatory (IXO)

To the Con-X and XEUS teams,

In May 2008 ESA and NASA established a coordination group involving ESA, NASA and JAXA, with the intent of exploring a joint mission merging the ongoing XEUS and Constellation-X efforts. The coordination group met twice, first in May 2008 at ESTEC, then in June 2008 at the Center for Astrophysics. As a result of these meetings a joint understanding was reached by the coordination group on a proposal to proceed towards the goal of developing an International X-ray Observatory (IXO).

The coordination group proposed the start of a joint study of IXO. A single merged set of top level science goals and derived key science measurement requirements were established. The starting configuration for the IXO study will be a mission featuring a single large X-ray mirror and an extensible optical bench with a 20-25m focal length, with an interchangeable focal plane. The instruments to be studied for the IXO concept will include an X-ray wide field imaging spectrometer, a high spectral resolution non-dispersive X-ray spectrometer, an X-ray grating spectrometer, plus allocation for further payload elements with modest resource demands. The study will explore how to enhance the response to high-energy X-rays. This plan establishes an IXO study, which will be the input to the US decadal process and to the ESA selection for the Cosmic Vision Plan. The IXO study supersedes the ongoing XEUS and Constellation-X activities.

At a bilateral ESA-NASA meeting 2008, July 15 and 16 in Annapolis this plan was endorsed by David Southwood the ESA Director for the Science and Robotic Exploration Program and Ed Weiler the NASA Associate Adminstrator of the Science Mission Directorate. A letter signed by Jon Morse (NASA HQ Astrophysics Division Director) and Fabio Favata (ESA Coordinator for Astronomy and Fundamental Physics Missions) records the details of the agreed plan.

As part of this plan the Agencies will establish an IXO coordination group (IXO-CG) charged with the definition of the science requirements for the IXO study, scientific supervision on the IXO study activities and providing inputs to the agencies.

Further details will be presented and discussed at planned upcoming meetings including the NASA IXO (previously Con-X) FST meeting August 20-22 at GSFC and the ESA IXO (previously XEUS) workshop at MPE in Garching Sept 17-19. These are open meetings and scientists from Europe, Japan and the US are encouraged to attend both meetings.

We are all very excited by this development, and look forward to a successful outcome that will lead to the next major facility class X-ray observatory that will address many high priority astrophysics questions.

Hideyo Kunieda, JAXA
Arvind Parmar, ESA
Nicholas White, NASA