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Space year 2013

Important year for Czech astronautics: Several ESA satellites will fly Czech instruments

Czech astronautics made big achievements linked to two important projects. Modified detectors Timepix are going to be lifted off in April on ESA Proba-V. In the early summer time, three Swarm satellites are expected to be put onto their orbits. 

Each of them is equipped with accelerometers produced in the Czech Republic. Both projects were parts of examples contribution of Czech companies to ESA space programmes. Participating research departments, interested in building on Czech space accomplishments, are welcomed to join until 25th February, when the ESA’s 3rd Czech Industry Incentive Scheme finishes.

“Micro-accelerometers for Swarm satellites it is the major space hardware development project, the Czech Republic has contributed in the frame of its contribution to ESA space programmes so far. We believe, that its successful completion, would confirm again the usefulness of our membership at ESA  and the fact that, collaboration of Czech participating subjects in space programmes have good results ” notes Jan Kolar, the director of the Czech Space Office. “ This is also the reason, why we remind Czech participating subjects on the 3rd Czech Industry Incentive Scheme (CIIS), supporting programme of ESA, focussed exclusively on Czech companies. One of the major benefits is in fact, that companies are allowed to apply with project proposals with their own topics of interest, which is quite unique in ESA tenders. The budget for CIIS allocated in total 3 million Euros,” follows Kolar his explanation.

Team of 15 companies, led by Aeronautical Research and Test Establishment (VZLU), contributed to the development of the instruments for Swarm mission.  Micro-accelerometers enable to measure the impact of non-gravitational forces, acting on satellite during the flight and causing tiny deviations from an orbital path. More accurate information about the actual position of each satellite will therefore help scientists to improve the overall interpretation of measured data with respect to Geo-magnetic field. Data, acquired with Swarm satellites will be essential for improvements of models of Earth’s dynamo and interaction of Earth’s core with other outside layers of Earth. Results of this research may support early earthquake prediction or enable deeper understanding of the system of oceanic currents.

The Timepix detectors have been used at the International Space Station since July 2012. They monitor also the radiation dose, to which astronauts are exposed. The detectors were initially developed by a group of scientists from CERN. The Institute of Experimental and Aplied Physics at Czech Technical University subsequently modified and embedded the detectors to a very compact USB device, which is used by astronauts in their laptops. These radiation detectors will also be deployed on satellite demonstrator Proba-V, on which their applicability in future space missions has to be verified. The instrument assesses the amount and the energy of particles, mainly neutrons, impacting on the detector. Such detector can also be used for searching of materials with high amount of hydrogen, which can be essential for the search of water and extraterrestrial life in space.

The Czech Republic entered in October 2012 the ESA’s programme Space Situational Awareness (SSA), the goal of which is to develop a European system for monitoring of the Earth’s surrounding including near Earth objects, space debris, asteroids and space weather. In the Czech Republic, especially the topic of space weather, for which the TimePix detectors can also be used, has a good research background. Besides the research provided by the Institute of Experimental and Aplied Physics, there have been significant results made by teams from Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University in Prague and by the the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

“The use of Timepix detectors on European Proba-V satellite is a proof, that there is an international demand on Czech space products in the world’s space sector. Within the frame of SSA programme, there has been a discussion about the possibility to place some kind of space radiation detectors onboard future telecommunication or Galileo navigation satellites. Suitable candidate for such a device may be the Czech Timepix detector, developed at the Czech Technical University in Prague.” adds Kolar.

The 3rd Czech Industry Incentive Scheme call is open for Czech participating subjects from 2nd January to 25th February. Its main goal is to increase the competitiveness of Czech companies in

European space programs. CIIS is open for participation of SMEs, teams of Academy of Sciences, universities and other research institutions. The overall available budget is 3 million euro.