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Gamma ray station for remote onsite testing of spacecraft detectors

Transportable source of gamma rays for onsite testing and calibration of gamma ray detectors

Gamma ray station for remote onsite testing

Project duration: 2012 to 2015

Project leader: Tomáš Slavíček

Project coordinator: Carlos Granja

The compact transportable gamma ray station is designed for testing and calibration of gamma ray sensitive space devices. The station has been constructed specifically for onsite testing and calibration of payloads for the European Space Agency mission BepiColombo to Mercury. The source and developed methodology provide calibration reference for qualification of integrated payload instruments as well as for preflight evaluation of spacecraft platform carrying scientific radiation sensitive payloads. The station provides discrete-energy gamma rays evenly distributed in wide range of 100 keV – 9 MeV. For measurements, a laboratory-grade radionuclide neutron source is used together with 100 l of distilled water and 22 kg of standard salt. Loading and unloading the neutron source takes only few minutes. The time required to calibrate the device up to 8 MeV is no more than 20 minutes at 2 m distance from the station. Background is kept at reasonable level allowing clear calibrating peaks to rise in less than 1 minute for the values below 1 MeV and 1 – 2 minutes up to 3 MeV at 2 m distance. The transportability of the entire system, simple loading and minimal operation make the system attractive for onsite use at remote facilities and laboratories requiring only partial restrictions on handling and transport of the radioactive source. Ambient dose rate during loaded station operation is within permitted limits.

Construction of the transportable gamma ray station was funded by the Research Grant No. AO/1-6647/10/NL/CBi of the European Space Agency. Storage and operation of the station and AmBe neutron source are supported by Grant Research Infrastructure No. LM2011030 of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic.

The Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics

IEAP is the research center of the Czech Technical University in Prague (CTU) for applied and fundamental research in experimental physics of the microworld. R&D focuses on advanced instrumentation and new methods with novel applications in biomedical imaging and space. The IEAP CTU has presently over 80 staff members with one fifth of foreigners and many Ph.D. students and young researchers. The institute is equipped with modern facilities such as high-resolution micro-tomography units and widerange gamma-ray source facilities designed and constructed by IEAP teams. The latter facilities serve for calibration of spacecraft instruments including a transportable station for remote onsite measurements at ESA Test Centers. The institute operates also a Van de Graaff accelerator which provides light ion and mono-energetic fast neutron sources for space-related research.

What would you name as main benefits of the project to you and your company?

“It was the possibility to develop an entirely new application for space in the sector of mission-related services based on our ideas and know-how in the field of radiation sources and radiation spectrometry. Thanks to the project this new market product opens the door to new activities and valuable international collaborations including future tasks for onsite testing of devices integrated in spacecraft.”