The European Space Agency has given green light for preparations for a Czech space telescope

Recently, astrophysicists from Masaryk University’s (MU) Faculty of Science began a detailed study for the construction of the first Czech space telescope, which will be optimised for the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. The project is being led by the Czech Aerospace Research Centre (VZLU), with the involvement of MU, the TOPTEC research centre of the Institute of Plasma Physics at the Czech Academy of Science (CAS) and PEKASAT. The project, which has been given the name QUVIK (Quick Ultra-Violet Kilonova Surveyor), is being financed with Czech funds and will support the involvement of Czech scientists and industry in space projects. All stages of the project will have to meet the high international standards of the European Space Agency (ESA).

30 Jun 2022 Tereza Fojtová

There are very few space telescopes in the world that can observe the universe in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. One of these is the large Hubble Space Telescope, which is very expensive and difficult to obtain observation time on”, said Norbert Werner from MU’s Faculty of Science, the scientific coordinator of the mission. For scientists, however, observing cosmic phenomena in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum is crucial as there are many potential discoveries to be made in this region. Ultraviolet radiation is absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere, hence observations in this part of the spectrum are only possible with space telescopes .

The Czech space telescope is primarily being designed for the research on kilonovae, which arise from the coalescence of neutron stars or neutron stars and black holes, and are accompanied by gravitational waves and bursts of gamma rays. “Observing these phenomena in the ultraviolet, shortly after the mergers, will help us to clarify not only how the explosions occur but also tell us much about the formation of elements heavier than iron, such as gold and platinum, that are produced during the mergers”, said Werner.

In addition, the telescope is intended to observe exoplanets, i.e. planets orbiting stars other than our own Sun. Combined with observations from other observatories, scientists will be able to see whether these planets are losing their atmospheres. It will also be possible to observe very hot stars, supernovae, star clusters and radiation from the nuclei of galaxies where super massive black holes accrete matter and occasionally tear apart stars.

The TOPTEC research centre, a CAS application centre specialising in optics and optoelectronics research and the development of related applications, will be responsible for the construction of the telescope. “From the point of view of the optics, the most difficult thing will be ensuring perfect image performance after launching into orbit using a compact, lightweight design with technologies available in the Czech Republic”, said Jan Václavík of TOPTEC.

VZLU will oversee the production of the satellite that will carry the telescope. “Kilonova formation is a rapid process; hence, we need to develop a satellite with both good manoeuvrability and pointing accuracy so that it can ‘look’ at the right part of the sky in time”, explained Juraj Dudáš, the Director of the Space Division. “QUVIK is a project that integrates academia and industry and strengthens the Czech Republic's space capabilities. We believe that this mission will continue into the implementation phase, during which there will be intensive involvement of local companies”, added Dudáš.

Communication and data transmission will be provided by the company PEKASAT, which has years of experience in the field of satellite communication and cooperates with the most important satellite operators around the world. “Our task will be to prepare the ground segment for the transmission of large amounts of data from the satellite and to ensure an almost continuous contact with the satellite”, said Michal Tulek, the CEO of PEKASAT.

The researchers have been given one year by ESA to prepare a detailed study, which will provide an accurate overview of the technologies that need to be developed and the funding that will be needed. If the mission is selected for implementation based on this detailed study, the expected launch date will be sometime in 2026/27.

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