CELESTA, the first CERN technology demonstrator in space

On 13 July 2022, CELESTA, the first CERN-driven satellite, successfully entered orbit during the maiden flight of Europe’s Vega-C launch vehicle.

Weighing one kilogram and measuring 10 centimetres on each of its sides, CELESTA (CERN latchup and radmon experiment student satellite) is a 1U CubeSat – a nanosatellite standard – designed to study the effects of cosmic radiation on electronics. The satellite carries a Space RadMon, a miniature version of a well-proven radiation monitoring device deployed in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC). CELESTA has been sent into an Earth orbit of almost 6000 kilometres. Right in the middle of the inner Van Allen belt, CELESTA will survey an unusual orbit where radiation levels are at their highest.

Launched by the European Space Agency from the French Guiana Space Centre (CSG), the satellite deployed smoothly and its payload was activated. The team at CERN is now analysing the first collected data and will need several months to collect enough statistics to reach its scientific objectives.

A radiation monitor module for future missions

The Space RadMon is a flagship example of how CERN technologies can have applications beyond particle physics experiments. Based entirely on standardised, ultra-sensitive components selected and calibrated by CERN, and mostly in CERN facilities, the Space RadMon is a lightweight and low-power instrument, ideal for future risk-tolerant space missions. 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.

The first ever system-level test of a full satellite

A radiation model of the CELESTA satellite was also tested in CHARM, a CERN mixed-field facility capable of reproducing, to a large extent, the radiation environment of low Earth orbit. The mission will be an important validation of this capability at the facility. “Capable of testing satellites all at once, rather than component by component, CHARM is a unique installation worldwide, 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.

The success of this satellite is the result of a fruitful partnership between CERN and the University of Montpellier, which involved many students from both institutions and radiation effect specialists from CERN. CELESTA is based on the CSUM ROBUSTA-1U 3.5 radiation tolerant platform. It will be operated from the CSUM control centre and the data generated will be made available to CERN scientists via a data diffusion platform. The European Space Agency provided the launch slot in the framework of its small satellite programme.

On a mission to make space more accessible, CELESTA is an exciting example of how CERN expertise can have a positive impact on the aerospace industry. With this mission, CERN displays its low-cost solutions for measuring radiation and testing satellites against it – thus providing universities, companies and startups with the means to realise their space ambitions.

CELESTA marks a milestone in the development of CERN aerospace applications
  • Radiation Monitoring: One of CELESTA's main goals is to develop an embeddable radiation monitor based on CERN RadMon and validate the system for LEO mission.
  • Floating Gate MOSFET dosimeter technology validation for LEO orbits.
  • Single Event Latchup (SEL) experiment: CELESTA's payload monitors SEL occurrences on a SRAM memory depending on satellite position. With a low earth polar orbit, knowing satellite position when SEL is occurring will allow to differentiate protons from heavy ions contribution.
  • CHARM test facility: Once calibrated, CHARM mixed field environment shall be similar to CELESTA's mission environment in terms of system response. Hence, a radiation qualification test method for LEO mission at CHARM test facility was developed. In flight, data will later be benchmarked with CHARM test results in order to validate the method.
  • Platform: CELESTA will promote CSU ROBUSTA-1U platform for LEO missions.
  • Education: As for all ROBUSTA mission, student from all level will be strongly involved in the project.

The payload proposes a two-fold test setup of a combined radiation monitoring unit coupled together with a latch-up test station. While the former is based on CERN RadMon used in challenging mixed-field radiation environments at high-energy accelerators, the latter focuses on latch-up measurements of memory components, of particular interest for accelerator applications, but involving also application areas such as ground (avionic, train and car industry) as well as space.

Both, the proposed test setup, as well as the entire CubeSat were qualified in a representative radiation field available in a new CERN radiation test facility (CHARM). This test facility allows not only to fully reproducing the mission radiation environment, but at the same time also provides additional test locations with particle energy spectra representative for high- and low-altitude atmospheric, accelerator and other applications. In this sense, while being a student project in collaboration of CERN, the University of Montpellier, the Van-Allen Foundation as well as ESA, the combined application and expertise of the CERN Radiation Monitor (RadMon) as well as the new radiation test facility CHARM, may lay the ground for future KT related projects.

The platform and the Ground Segment of the mission is provided by the Centre Spatial Universitaire (CSU) of the University of Montpellier, while the payload is developed and provided by CERN (coordinated by KT and the R2E project). The microsatellite is based on a ROBUSTA platform (also supported by CNES), and is a typical CubeSat (1kg, 1 dm3, 1 W).

CERN Team:

  • Markus BRUGGER
  • Enrico CHESTA
  • Salvatore DANZECA
  • Anne-Sophie MERLENGHI
  • Raffaello SECONDO

CSU Team:

  • Muriel BERNARD
  • Laurent DUSSEAU
  • Sylvie JARRIX
  • Xavier LAURAND
  • Jean-Roch VAILLE

Anne-Sophie Merlenghi, Markus Brugger, Enrico Chesta, Salvatore Danzeca, Rubén García Alía, et al.. The CELESTA CubeSat Radiation Monitoring Mission. Small Satellites Services and Systems Symposium, 2016, Valetta, Malta. ⟨hal-02042418⟩

R. Secondo et al., "Analysis of SEL on Commercial SRAM Memories and Mixed-Field Characterization of a Latchup Detection Circuit for LEO Space Applications," in IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science, vol. 64, no. 8, pp. 2107-2114, Aug. 2017, doi: 10.1109/TNS.2017.2691403.

R. Secondo et al., "System Level Radiation Characterization of a 1U CubeSat Based on CERN Radiation Monitoring Technology," in IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science, vol. 65, no. 8, pp. 1694-1699, Aug. 2018, doi: 10.1109/TNS.2018.2797319.

R. Secondo (2017), “Upgrades of the RadMon V6 and its Integration on a Nanosatellite for the Analysis and the Comparative Study of the CHARM and Low Earth Orbit Environments”, PhD Thesis, Université de Montpellier.

A dedicated radiation model of CELESTA was tested and calibrated in the CHARM irradiation facility, at CERN. It was the first ever system level test of a full satellite.

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