Experience led by the University of Coimbra goes to space in ESA’s first reusable vehicle

The scientific experiment “TGF Monitor”, a gamma-ray pixelated cadmium telluride (CdTe) detection system with polarimetric capabilities, which will open new technological and scientific horizons, led by the University of Coimbra (UC), has just been selected for go into space aboard the Space Rider, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) first reusable space vehicle.

The team is coordinated by Rui Curado Silva, professor at the Physics Department of the Faculty of Sciences and Technology of the UC (FCTUC), and has the participation of the Laboratory of Instrumentation and Experimental Particle Physics (LIP), of the University of Beira Interior (UBI). ) and the companies Active Space Technologies (Coimbra) and Advacam (Prague, Czech Republic).

According to Rui Curado Silva, the “TGF Monitor” experience, if successful, will contribute to “establishing CdTe detectors as a technology with applications ranging from astrophysics to aviation security; and carry out further scientific measurements, in particular those related to terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGF)». TGFs, he explains, “are emitted by cumulonimbus clouds (clouds with high vertical development associated with thunderstorm systems) and are a concern for the health and safety of aircraft crews and passengers”.

The experience covers several topics, such as the effects of orbital radiation on CdTe detectors, «which could be used as a detection plane for telescopes for high energy astrophysics; observation of gamma emissions, namely the Crab Nebula, with a CdTe detector with polarimetric capabilities; scientific measurements of TGF emissions, in particular, the possibility of measuring linear polarization can contribute to answering open questions about the physical processes that generate TGF», details Rui Curado Silva.

The experience also includes monitoring TGF emissions and evaluating the potential of pixelated CdTe detectors as TGF monitors on board aircraft. «Its use as an alert and for characterizing the magnitude of the emission could be a valuable contribution to aviation safety», says the researcher and professor at FCTUC.

Space Rider will launch from Kourou (French Guiana) in 2024 aboard a Vega rocket. It will be in orbit for two months in an equatorial low earth orbit. The TGF Monitor experiment will be installed on the Space Rider,where it will be exposed to the space radiation environment. It will point to space, allowing the recording of gamma-ray emissions, for example from the Crab Nebula, and also to Earth, recording TGF», explains Rui Curado Silva. At the end of the mission, the Space Rider will land in Kourou or at the airport on the island of Santa Maria, in the Azores. The experience will then be retrieved and analyzed.

In addition to Rui Curado Silva, the team is made up of researchers Jorge M. Maia, José Sousa, Joana Mingacho, Pedro Póvoa, Joana Gonçalves, Gabriel Falcão, Gabriel Salgado and Miguel Moita. On the companies side, the team is made up of Filipe Castanheira, Frederico Teixeira, Henrique Neves and Sara Freitas, from Active Space Technologies, Carlos Granja, Jiri Sestak and Jan Jakubek (Advacam).

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