CERN goes beyond Higgs Boson, sends satellite to unusual orbit

Image Courtesy: CERN

It’s a flagship example of extending CERN applications beyond particle physics, say CERN scientists

By Kiran N. Kumar

A decade after hitting headlines with its experiments on the Higgs Boson particle, CERN has decided to go beyond particle physics experiments with the launch of the latchup and ‘radmon’ experiment satellite (CELESTA) for radiation monitoring.

The first satellite by CERN, it entered orbit during the maiden flight of Europe’s Vega-C launch vehicle on July 13, 2022, and started transmitting its first signals in the afternoon.

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Weighing just one kilo and measuring 10 cm on each of its sides, it’s a 1U CubeSat designed to study the effects of cosmic radiation on electronics.

Part of CERN’s initiative Radiation to Electronics or R2E, the satellite carries a Space RadMon, a miniature version of radiation monitoring device deployed in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

What’s catching one’s eye is that the CELESTA has been sent into an Earth orbit of almost 6,000 km, right in the middle of the inner Van Allen belt, to survey an unusual orbit where radiation levels are at their highest. It’s a flagship example of extending CERN applications beyond particle physics, say CERN scientists.

Prior to its launch, the CELESTA satellite was tested in CHARM, a CERN mixed-field facility capable of reproducing the radiation environment of low Earth orbit.

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The facility is capable of testing satellites all at once, rather than component by component and remarkably different from other irradiation test facilities.

“It offers a simple, low-cost alternative and the possibility to assess system-level effects,” says Salvatore Danzeca, CHARM facility coordinator.

Developed in collaboration with the University of Montpellier, which involved many students from both institutions and radiation effect specialists from CERN, CELESTA is based on the CSUM radiation tolerant platform to be operated from the CSUM control centre.

Ruben Garcia Alia, radiation effects physicist in the R2E project at CERN, says, “If CELESTA is successful, the Space RadMon could even be adapted to satellite constellations as a predictive maintenance tool – to anticipate the necessary renewal of satellites.”

Radiation & aerospace industry
CERN has undertaken the CELESTA project as part of its study of radiation impact on the aerospace industry, seeking to find low-cost solutions for measuring radiation and testing satellites against radiation.

In fact, exposure of aircrew to cosmic radiation has remained a major occupational health risk for several decades. Based on the recommendations by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), many countries have stipulated legal radiation protection regulations, including the United States.

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Already, sources of ionizing and non-ionizing radiation due to weather phenomena have been identified in recent years, while the focus is shifting on to space weather phenomena causing radiation exposure in the atmosphere that might pose a risk to aviation safety, including effects on human health and avionics.

The need of the hour is potential radiation mitigation measures and CERN may be keen to find a slot for a solution in the research.

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