Czech nanosatelite VZLUSAT-1 celebrated two years on orbit


On 23.6. the first Czech nanosatellite celebrated two years on orbit, the VZLUSAT-1 still transmits scientific data and some solutions used during the satellite construction are already being prepared for commercial use. The average life expectancy of CubeSats in general is around 1.1 years. Therefore, the VZLUSAT-1 entered to an elite group of approximately 15% of CubeSats, which are able to operate for two years and more.

Nanosatellite VZLUSAT-1 was developed by Czech Aerospace Research Centre (VZLU) in cooperation with Rigaku Innovative Technologies Europe Ltd., 5M Ltd., TTS Ltd., HVM Plasma Ltd. and IST Ltd. and universities FEL ZČU, CTU IEAP, FEE and WBU. On board of the VZLUSAT-1, there are miniaturized X-ray telescope, instrument FIPEX for measuring oxygen concentration in the atmosphere and also a radiation shield made from composite materials.

Despite the fact that the satellite is still operational, its mission can be already assessed from a commercial and scientific point of view. The X-ray telescope, which consists of a multi-foil optical wide field system (lobster eye) for detecting X-rays with energy between 3–30 keV, has already brought interesting scientific results. Its optics was developed by Rigaku Inovative Technologies Europe. The detection is based on the pixel sensor Timepix, developed within the international consortium at CTU. During the two years of satellite operation on orbit, a large amount of X-ray data has been collected to describe Earth's radiation maps.

For example, one of the new outcomes is the discretization of X-ray and gamma photons from other ionizing particles to which the satellite has been exposed. For this separation, new experiments were made in a special Timepix detector operation mode onboard of VZLUSAT-1.

 The VZLUSAT-1 mission has also a commercial potential. Individual companies had a unique opportunity to verify whether their solutions work in space, an example can be the 5M composite radiation shield, whose radiation shielding qualities are measured with a miniature dosimeter developed by VZLU, which is now being prepared as a commercial solution that will be used by other satellites or drones.

In 2021, the next nanosatellite VZLUSAT-2will be launched. It will carry a new SpacePix, developed jointly by ESC and CTU FJFI. In addition, on board there will be an experimental Earth observation camera and a new generation of instruments that have succeeded during the first mission.

The second generation of X-ray telescope with ESA support is currently being developed. In addition to VZLU, Rigaku Innovative Technologies Europe Ltd., Advacam Ltd., 5M Ltd., TTS Ltd., HVM Plasma Ltd. and BS Senzors are being involved. The aim of the second generation is to show that there is a relatively inexpensive solutions for small satellites that would allow scientific monitoring of X-ray events. By constructing such a facility, the Czech Republic will become one of few countries capable of developing a space X-ray telescope independently.

The satellite now operates on a polar track at 495 km with speed of 7610 m / s. It was launched as part of the QB50 international mission on June 23, 2017, and was put into full operation on August 2, 2017.


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