AGILE is an ASI Small Scientific Mission dedicated to gamma-ray astrophysics, which will detect and image photons in the 30 MeV - 50 GeV and in the 10-40 keV energy ranges. It is planned to be operational in early 2004 and it will be the only Mission entirely dedicated to source detection above 30 MeV during the period 2004-2006. AGILE will be an excellent gamma-ray imager with a spatial resolution of ~40 µm and a very large FOV (~1/5 of the sky). It allows simultaneous observations in the hard X-ray and in the gamma-ray bands and it is characterized by an optimal temporal resolution (absolute timing of ~2 µs and deadtimes of ~100 µs for the GRID and of ~5 µs for Super-AGILE and the Mini-Calorimeter). AGILE main scientific objectives will be: Active Galactic Nuclei, Gamma-Ray Bursts, Pulsars, unidentified gamma-ray sources and diffuse Galactic and extragalactic gamma-ray emission. In this paper (Part I) we focus on the AGILE scientific goals, the AGILE instrument and the on-board data processing
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