Scientists have launched the first nanosatellite to detect gamma-ray bursts into space

The first nanosatellite aimed at detecting gamma-ray bursts is now in orbit. The mini-satellite carrying the new detector, called GRBAlph, which was co-developed by Hungarian, Czech, Japanese and Slovak scientists and designers, was launched into space on Monday by a Soyuz rocket. Contrary to plans, the launch from Baikonur was postponed for two days due to technical problems with the rocket. Less than 15 hours after the launch, the scientific team, led by astrophysicist Norbert Werner from the Faculty of Science of Masaryk University, managed to connect with the satellite for the first time.

23 Mar 2021 Tereza Fojtová

Connection with the satellite was aided by the Laboratory of Experimental Satellites under the leadership of Miroslav Kasal from the Department of Radio Electronics of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Communication Technologies, Brno University of Technology. The aim of the mission is to verify operation of the proposed project aimed at detecting gamma-ray bursts, which occur during collisions between neutron stars or during the gravitational collapse of very massive, rapidly rotating stars. For astrophysicists, this represents an opportunity to elucidate and demonstrate a number of physical phenomena.

If it turns out that the proposed device, which has already undergone a number of tests on Earth, works in orbit, we would like to gradually send a whole fleet of such small detectors into space so that the measurements cover the entire sky. By linking the data obtained, we would be able to locate where the gamma-ray bursts come from, allowing us to make further measurements and observations”, Werner said.

In total, there should be nine satellites divided into triplets in three different orbital planes. Researchers have already given the fleet the name CAMELOT (CubeSats applied for measuring and locating transients).

The idea to develop a suitable device for the detection of gamma-ray bursts arose five years ago in collaboration with Adrás Pál from the Hungarian Astronomical Institute, who took over the scientific management of the detector development project, including electronics and software. The Slovak-Czech company Spacemanic, operating out of the Brno space incubator ESA BIC, and the Slovak company Needronix, whose designers already had previous experience with the construction of a nanosatellite known as skCube, joined the mini-satellite development team.

The Faculty of Aviation of the Technical University in Košice, which is the official operator of the mission, also played an important role. As an academic institution, it was able to enter the project in an international competition organised by the International Astronautical Federation in cooperation with GK Launch Services. The project succeeded and received a 75% discount, reducing the flight cast for the GRBAlpha satellite to $ 15,000 (€ 12,300).

The team of Norbert Werner and András Pál, which comprises around 10 scientists and designers from Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, has worked closely with Japanese colleagues to develop a similar detector for the Czech satellite VZLUSAT-2, which is scheduled to launch in June.

Translated by Kevin Roche

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