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MU scientists will launch another two gamma-ray burst detectors into space

The satellite, designated VZLUSAT-2, will be lifted together with other small satellites on Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with is scheduled for launch on Thursday, 13 January, at 16:25 hours.

Norbert Werner from the Faculty of Science.

Czech scientists are about to launch two more gamma-ray burst monitoring instruments into space. A research group of astrophysicists from the Department of Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics of the Faculty of Science MU is once again collaborating on the project.

After the success of the GRBAlpha nanosatellite carrying a detector that has been monitoring gamma-ray bursts from deep space since this spring, Czech scientists are planning to send two more detectors to orbit, this time on a nanosatellite developed by the Czech Aerospace Research Centre (VZLU). The satellite, designated VZLUSAT-2, will be lifted together with other small satellites on Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with is scheduled for launch on Thursday, 13 January, at 16:25 hours.

Scientists continue validating the functionality of the gamma-ray burst detectors mounted on CubeSats in orbit. “The first detector installed on the GRBAlpha satellite, which was launched to space under a Slovak-led project in March, has already demonstrated that we can use it to routinely detect gamma-ray bursts. GRBAlpha has so far detected five such events, two of them in the span of just eight hours on the night of 18-19 October,” said Norbert Werner from the Faculty of Science MU.

The scientists’ goal is to deploy an entire fleet of such orbital detectors, which should gradually cover the entire sky. By linking the data from these detectors, they will then be able to locate the sources of the gamma-ray bursts and make further measurements and observations. Gamma-ray bursts are caused by collisions of neutron stars or the gravitational collapse of very massive, rapidly rotating stars. For astrophysicists, these events present an opportunity to explain and demonstrate a range of physical phenomena.

Based on initial experience with the detector placed on the GRBAlpha satellite, scientists expect that VZLUSAT-2 will be able to detect even more gamma-ray bursts. In fact, it carries two detectors onboard that are of similar size and sensitivity as the one placed on board GRBAlpha. All these detectors were designed by an international Hungarian-Czech-Japanese team. The science data obtained from the devices are analysed by the High-Energy Astrophysics group at the Department of Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics MU.

The primary mission of VZLUSAT-2 is to verify technology that will be used in later missions as part of the planned Czech satellite constellation. In addition, the satellite carries other instruments from universities and private companies. The nanosatellite is based on the proven CubeSat concept, which allows sticking individual ten-centimetre “cubes” together in a mission-specific configuration. VZLUSAT-2 is a CubeSat in 3U configuration comprising three “cubes”, allowing for the installation of an experimental camera and other special instruments. Like VZLUSAT-1, the satellite will be operated from the mission control centre run by the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of the University of West Bohemia.

“Although the satellite is scheduled to be lifted to space already on 13 January, it will not be released from the upper stage’s separation system until 7 to 15 days after the launch. Therefore, we will have to wait a while to find out whether everything is working as it should,” Werner explained.