The reference detector for astronaut dosimetry and low-energy cosmic rays

The new phase of human space exploration is coming. From the International Space Station to NASA’s Orion spacecraft, Timepix has been part of several human spaceflight missions.

Highly sensitive, capable of high spatial resolution and noiseless detection, Timepix is the CERN technology with the largest space flight experience.

Developed through the CERN-hosted Medipix2 Collaboration, Timepix detectors are extremely small but powerful particle trackers. Over the last decade, they have been used in various space applications: from detection and track visualisation of radiation and cosmic rays in open space to astronaut dosimetry. As such, they are on board the International Space Station and are being commissioned for use for NASA’s lunar exploration programme Artemis.

The chip’s technology is similar to the ones used to track particle trajectories in CERN’s LHC experiments. It is capable of measuring ionising alpha, beta, and gamma radiation, as well as heavy ions; it is also able to characterise traces of individual ionising particles, so that types and energies can be deduced.

Mission  Date Payload name Altitude Agency Country Objective Payload main developers
ISS 2012-2019 REM 410 km NASA USA Human spaceflight University of Houston
PROBA-V 2013-present SATRAM 820 km ESA Europe Science IEAP-CTU
TechDemoSat-1 2014-2017 LUCID 635 km UKSA UK Education Langton School
ORION ETF-1 2014 BIRD 5800 km NASA USA Technology University of Houston
VZLUSAT-1 2017-present X-ray telescope 510 km VZLU Czech Science IEAP-CTU, Advacam
RISESAT 2019-present RISEPIX 506 km JAXA Japan Science IEAP-CTU, Tohoku University
ISS 2019-present REM2, MPT, HERA 410 km NASA USA Human spaceflight Universiy of Houston
Artemis 1 2022 1 HERA/3 Timepix, 1 Biosentinel – supporting biology experiment Lunar orbit NASA USA Human spaceflight University of Houston
Artemis 2, 3 2024, 2025 2 HERA/6 Timepix per mission Lunar orbit NASA USA Human spaceflight University of Houston
NASA CLPS Astrobotic 2022/23 LETS (1 Timepix) Lunar surface (Lacus Mortis) NASA USA    
NASA CLPS Maasten 2023 LETS (1 Timepix) Lunar surface (South Pole) NASA USA    
LEIA 2026 ARES (1 Timepix) – supporting biology experiment Lunar surface (South Pole) NASA USA    
Gateway TBS At least 1 ARES (1 Timepix) Lunar orbit NASA USA    
HLS (Likely Starship) 2024/25 At least 1 ARES (1 Timepix) Lunar surface NASA USA    
CEPS (Space Weather Instrument) 2026+ At least 1x Timepix2 TBD NASA USA    
GOMX-5 exp 2022 MIRAM LEO ESA Europe Technology IEAP-CTU, Advacam
Mission tbd after 2022 PAN any EU Europe Science University of Geneva, IEAP-CTU

In focus: Launch of VZLUSAT-1

VZLUSAT-1 is a technological nanosatellite for in-orbit demonstration of new technologies and products, jointly developed by several Czech partners including Czech Technical University (CTU). It is well known for its “Lobster Eye” optical system, developed by a Czech company. The detection system is based on pixel sensor Timepix, developed by the Medipix collaboration. VZLUSAT-1 was launched 23 June 2017, and is part of the QB50 international network of CubeSats for multi-point, in-situ measurements in the lower thermosphere and re-entry research.