CERN Accelerating science

European Organization for Nuclear Research

Aerospace Applications

Aerospace is a field in which CERN is playing a critical and increasingly recognised role from both the scientific and the technological point of view. This domain is considered as highly strategic by many of CERN's institutional and industrial partners in the Member States and beyond.

Both space missions and underground accelerator and detector infrastructures have to deal with extremely harsh environments, posing stringent technological requirements that often overlap. In addition, the exploration of the smallest and largest structures of the Universe requires instruments and data exploitation systems capable of the highest achievable performances.

CERN's technologies, facilities and know-how have concrete applications in space, and the KT Group is committed to exploring synergies and establishing partnerships with institutional, research and commercial organisations active in the aerospace sector.

Feel free to contact the Aerospace Applications Coordinator for more information.


Institutional collaborations

CERN is establishing and implementing a growing network of collaboration partnerships with leading European aerospace organisations.

Agreements already signed:


Supported space missions

Several space missions dedicated to fundamental physics (e.g., astroparticle physics and cosmology), in development or exploitation phase, are CERN Recognized Experiments and benefit to various extents of CERN support. In many cases the instruments have been calibrated using CERN’s particle beams. Sometimes CERN’s technologies and know-how are used in the payload, platform or ground segment.

Missions in exploitation phase:

Missions in development phase:

  • Euclid                   

Completed missions:

  • Planck                        


CERN supports or has supported also other space missions in exploitation phase, with space science, earth observation and/or educational purposes:

  • NUCLEON                
  • UNOSAT                   
  • PROBA-V                 
  • LUCID                       


Technologies and demonstrators

CERN is actively involved in the development and qualification of technologies with proven or potential aerospace applications. The main technical fields where strong synergies have so far been identified and are being explored are:

- Radiation modelling, monitoring, shielding and testing

- Microelectronics design, development and characterisation

- Thermal management (advanced materials with extreme thermal conductivity properties, cryogenic systems, micro-channel and micro heat pipe technologies)

- High power microwave phenomena (including RF breakdown and multipactor effects)

- Vacuum technology and surface science

- Detectors and space instrumentation technologies

- Microtechnologies (sensors and actuators)

- Big data acquisition, distribution, analysis and storage

- Technologies for safety


Some significant examples:

Timepix detector

Timepix is an example of a CERN technology with significant and diversified in-flight experience. It is a position-sensitive semiconductor detector of the Medipix family that provides high sensitivity (single-particle/quantum counting), wide-dynamic range, high spatial resolution, noiseless (dark-current free) detection and extended functionality at the level of the per-pixel integrated electronic chain. Equipped with a 300 μm thick silicon sensor, Timepix is sensitive to X-rays (highest efficiency in the range 5–12 keV) and charged particles (100% detection efficiency), with a detection threshold of ~4 keV. Thanks to these technical characteristics, Timepix is very well suited for detection and track visualisation of radiation and cosmic rays in open space and for astronaut dosimetry. Several space programs/missions have contributed to test the Timepix performance in space, specifically: the PROBA-V technology demonstrator satellite, the Orion spacecraft test flight, the LUCID payload on TechDemoSat-1, as well as direct use on the ISS.



CELESTA CubeSat Demonstrator

CELESTA (CERN Latchup Experiment Student sAtellite) will be the first CERN-driven microsatellite, developed in collaboration with the University of Montpellier.

The project, supported through the KT Fund, has two main objectives: one is developing and flying a space version of CERN radiation monitor (RadMon) coupled with a single event latch-up experiment; the second is showing that the space radiation environment of Low Earth Orbit can be reproduced in the CHARM facility.

Currently in advanced phase A, the CubeSat is planned to be ready for launch in 2018.



Testing facilities

CERN operates unique technical facilities for testing equipment in space-like environments. Irradiation facilities are of particular interest to the aerospace community.


CHARM (Cern High energy AcceleRator Mixed field/facility) has been built at CERN in the Proton Synchrotron (PS) east area. The facility scope is to assess radiation effects on electronics not only at component level but also at system level within particle accelerator representative environments. Its available radiation fields are also characteristics for ground and atmospheric environments (neutron energy spectra) as well as for space environments (representative for the inner proton radiation belt).

The size of the available test area is such that large objects can also be irradiated. The target area is large enough to host a complete accelerator control or powering system (e. g for LHC power converters) but also full satellites, and parts of cars or planes.

In addition it is possible to irradiate electronic systems in highly representative conditions, including with operational power and control systems.



VESPER (Very energetic Electron facility for Space Planetary Exploration missions in harsh Radiative environments) is a high energy electron beamline for radiation testing which is part of the CTF3 (Compact Linear Collider Test Facility) experimental linear electron accelerator at CERN. 

The main application of the beamline is to characterise electronic components for the operation in a Jovian environment, in which trapped electrons of energies up to several hundred MeVs are present with very large fluxes. In addition, the use of the beam line for the characterisation of devices and detectors in a purely electro-magnetic beam for high-energy accelerator applications is also relevant.