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Swarm accelerometers switched on

Czech microaccelerometers on-board ESA Swarm satellites successfully powered up

Prague, December 2nd, 2013 - today at 11:24 first, complete data were received from three devices aboard the ESA Swarm satellites that come from the workbenches of the Aerospace Research and Test Establishment in Prague (VZLÚ). Their goal is to detect almost negligible accelerations of the orbiting satellites. Czech microaccelerometers were turned on and successfully powered up on Thursday, November 28th from the command centre ESA ESOC in Darmstadt.

According to the primary analysis, correct function of all the three devices has been confirmed. Acquired data lie in the anticipated results range and the parameters of the output signal are corresponding to the results of tests made on the Earth. Signal assessment will continue until the end of the satellite shakedown, thus until mid-February 2014. It has been the biggest realized Czech space equipment manufacturing project in collaboration with European Space Agency so far.

The objective of the mission Swarm, which started at Russian cosmodrome Plesetsk on Friday, November 22nd, is to chart all the distortions of Earth’s magnetic field in very close detail throughout a minimum period of a four years. Gathered data may help to clarify some of the processes happening inside the Earth’s core and mantle. The magnetic field surrounding our planet alone is essential for preservation of all life on Earth, because it protects cells from being bombarded by electrically charged particles from our Sun, the so-called Solar wind. The magnetic field is a dynamically shaping envelope and it also affects ocean currents, the Earth’s climate and it also serves as a navigation tool for migrating animals. The main part of the equipment of every single Swarm spacecraft is two magnetometers measuring the the direction and magnitude of the magnetic field and an electric field measuring device.

“A pinpoint location of the satellite is very important information for precise mapping of the magnetic field. And right here we saw the opportunity to deploy our microaccelerometers. Their task is to specify the exact location of the spacecraft at given time that is usually assessed using GPS, star trackers or retroreflector laser ranging. Microaccelerometers respond to density and dynamic effects of remains of the atmosphere and impacts of the Sun’s radiation during the flight of the spacecraft. In other words, the device measures the size and the orientation of the force, which slows down or speeds up the spacecraft, where the acceleration can be smaller than 10-4 ms-2,” explains Radek Peřestý, the project manager.

The development of precise microaccelerometers in Bohemia has had its tradition, which reaches back to mid-1980s, when the Astronomical Institute of Czech Academy of Sciences started to advance in this field in connection with their research regarding trajectory dynamics of Earth’s artificial satellites. The microaccelerometers for Swarm have already been the fourth development generation, so-called MAC04. First prototype was tested in 1992 on a Russian satellite Resurs F1, MAC02 flew in 1996 on board of the space shuttle Atlantis and the third generation was launched on a small Czech satellite MIMOSA in 2003.

“The development of the accelerometer for Swarm was going on since 2005 up until 2011 and our customer has been the German corporation EADS Astrium that is the prime contractor of Swarm satellites for ESA and hence is responsible for technical realization of the whole mission. Due to the challenging character of the technical solution, the project moved from the Astronomical Institute of Czech Academy of Sciences to VZLÚ and fourteen other Czech companies cooperated as subcontractors,” reports Josef Kašpar, director of VZLÚ.

“The fact, that it was confirmed a week after the start of Swarm, that all three Czech devices work according to the plan, poses not only for VZLÚ, but for the whole Czech space business, a significant event. Our departments have proven once again, that they are more than capable of satisfying ESA’s demanding needs on quality and reliability and that they have something to offer not only for European, but also world space industry,” says Jan Kolář, director of the Czech Space Office, which took part in the project with the organization of additional education activities and arranged a set of training courses about project management, quality assurance and technical standards of supplies for the European Space Agency under the guidance of professional course providers from ESA.