SPACE WEATHER MONITORING
In this image, we showcase NASA astronaut Katherine Megan McArthur aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Highlighted in a red circle at the top of the image is our MiniPIX TimePIX Radiation Monitoring Camera, a key tool designed to safeguard the astronauts and the sensitive electronic and computer systems onboard. Adjacent to the MiniPIX, you will spot a golden device; this is the original, comparatively larger, and less efficient radiation monitor of the ISS. Centre stage, circled in red, stands the robust HERA Radiation Monitor – a product of NASA’s ingenuity, equipped with ADVACAM’s Single-photon counting chip. Image courtesy of NASA.
The largest object ever measured by the Timepix radiation detector was the Earth i.e., its Low Orbit at the altitude of roughly 500 km. This map of cosmic radiation was created by a Timepix detector on the VZLUSAT-2 nanosatellite. It was part of the RITE payload It presents a demonstration of the novel use of a miniaturized X-ray telescope in orbit, and is the first use of Rigaku X-ray optics and ADVACAM’s Timepix detector. The South Atlantic Anomaly is clearly visible as well as other properties of Earth’s magnetic field. Courtesy of Tomáš Báča, ČVUT FEL.
Charged particles from solar flares and coronal ejections can harm astronauts‘ health or induce damaging electrical currents in the spacecraft‘s sensitive electronics. Our miniaturized low-power consumption radiation cameras can help to prevent this damage. They can track every particle and determine its type, energy, and direction of origin.
High-energy particles, primarily protons or cosmic rays, can penetrate spacecraft and pose significant health risks to astronauts. Similarly, space weather phenomena can adversely affect the electronics of satellites or space stations.
For these reasons, Space agencies, including NASA and ESA, and our commercial customers have integrated ADVACAM’s radiation monitors into their spacecraft, probes, and satellites.
Possessing the capability to determine the direction of incoming radiation, these monitors play a pivotal role in optimizing protective shielding. Particularly useful when only one side of a vessel can be shielded, they allow for timely adjustments to incoming threats.
Furthermore, by identifying each particle’s type, our cameras provide space weather forecasting. The Sun’s lighter and less harmful particles arrive on Earth at least 4 minutes ahead of the heavier, more dangerous ones, providing a valuable window for protective measures to be activated, including shutting down critical onboard systems as required.
Our detector, with its low power consumption of only roughly 2 watts and weight in the order of tens of grams, is ideally suited for integration into the demanding requirements of the space industry.
PARTICLE TRACKING IN SPACE
Quantum imaging detection and track visualization of space radiation in LEO orbit/500 km by the Timepix detector onboard the Cubesat VZLUSAT-2. Timepix resolves different particle types – in the image registered in January 2023, energetic protons (broad, large straight tracks) and energetic electrons (thin long tracks) can be seen. Both components are trapped radiation in Earth’s radiation belts. Low energy electrons (small tracks) and X-rays (few pixel tracks) are also resolved and registered (in the bottom right region of the pixel detector behind the X-ray optics). The color scale displays the per-pixel deposited energy.
Track of Carbon Ion recorded by our sensor: In yellow is displayed the trajectory of the ion itself, in green are visible recoiled (delta) electrons.
Our radiation monitoring cameras can visualize each charged particle that impacts the detector’s surface. Each particle leaves a unique track or imprint, enabling us to determine its composition, spectrum, and direction. Each particle type has different effects. Some are almost harmless, while others can significantly damage the human body or equipment. The ability of our cameras is unique compared to traditional radiation monitoring devices.
The effectiveness of Timepix detectors in characterizing space radiation and mixed radiation fields has been demonstrated through their use in multiple space missions. These include the International Space Station, the SATRAM payload aboard the ESA Proba-V satellite, VZLUSAT cubesats, and even the Artemis-I mission to the Moon. A Timepix detector was integrated into the HERA Radiation monitor onboard NASA’s Orion spaceship in the latter.
The detectors can quickly identify particle-event types, such as Light and Heavy Charged Particles, X-rays, gamma rays, or neutrons. For example, energetic protons usually appear as broad, straight tracks, while energetic electrons form thin, long, curved tracks. Low-energy electrons register as small tracks, and X-rays appear as minuscule dot-like tracks spanning just a few pixels.
ADVACAM has also developed innovative software solutions for real-time particle characterization. It allows for versatile and comprehensive analysis of particle data.
ISS: PROTECTING ASTRONAUTS AT THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION
This animation depicts data from a Radiation Environment Monitor 2 (REM2) in the Destiny Laboratory of the International Space Station. The map on the left side shows the distribution of dose rates over approximately two months from this unit. The space station location corresponding to the data frame on the right is overlayed on top of the dose rate map. The animation updates approximately every minute along the space station trajectory showing high latitudes, South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA), and equatorial areas in the low-Earth orbit radiation environment. The SAA is where the Earth’s inner Van Allen radiation belt comes closest to the Earth’s surface, dipping down to an altitude of 200 kilometers. Video: Courtesy of NASA
As an official contractor for NASA, ADVACAM has supplied the agency with dozens of its radiation monitoring solutions over the past decade. Many of these devices are currently active, contributing significantly to the safety of the ISS systems and its crew.
Smaller and lighter than preceding NASA radiation monitoring devices, systems based on Timepix technology are perfect for space exploration missions. The single-photon counting technology, developed originally for CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, enables NASA to collect data regarding the radiation dosage and the precise location of radiation as it hits the detector. NASA scientists can examine the radiation spectrum within exploration spacecraft, enhancing their understanding of how to safeguard the crew during deep space missions.
The initial testing of the Timepix solution on the ISS started in 2012. Timepix USB Lite Interface devices from the Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics in the Czech Republic were utilized for these tests. Five of these miniaturized detectors, each about the size of a USB pen drive, have been consistently collecting a stream of data relayed daily to the Mission Control Center at Johnson.
ADVACAM, a spin-off company from the Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics, delivered its first branded device to the ISS in 2017. ADVACAM’s Miniature Particle Tracker (MPT) was installed on the International Space Station to demonstrate its proficiency in determining the directional characteristics of charged particle energy spectra in space.
Subsequently, ADVACAM became an official contractor for NASA. Several other miniaturized MiniPIX Timepix single-photon counting cameras were certified and delivered to orbit in 2019, launched on the Cygnus NG-12 flight. These devices have been installed in ISS modules, including the US Lab, Cupola, Columbus, JPM, Node 1, and Node 3, as part of the Radiation Environment Monitor 2 (REM2).
Moreover, NASA integrated the customized Timepix technology provided by ADVACAM into the Hybrid Electronic Radiation Assessor (HERA). The flight spare for this launch collected data and conducted a 30-day comprehensive test aboard ISS in March 2019. Later on, the advanced radiation system was deployed on March 2, 2021, and is currently operational on the ISS. Its ultimate purpose, however, is to function on the upcoming Artemis missions to the Moon and beyond.
ARTEMIS I: BACK TO MOON WITH OUR CAMERAS
At the upper left image there is a portion of the far side of the Moon looming large just beyond the Orion spacecraft. The upper right image highlights the HERA radiation monitor, equipped with ADVACAM’s Timepix chip module visible in the golden frame. The image below reveals how all the components of the Hybrid Electronic Radiation Assessor were incorporated into the Orion spacecraft.
NASA incorporates our Timepix chip module into its ambitious Artemis missions, which aim to return humanity to the Moon.
Artemis I, an uncrewed Moon-orbiting mission, was successfully launched on November 16, 2022. The mission’s primary objective was to conduct a Moon flyby, thereby testing the Orion spacecraft, which included NASA’s Hybrid Electronic Radiation Assessor (HERA). The HERA system, a cutting-edge radiation detector designed by NASA and equipped with ADVACAM’s hybrid pixel detector technology, was fully integrated into the Orion spacecraft. HERA provided onboard analysis and displayed radiation dose rates, linking to an alarm and warning system that activated when a certain dose rate threshold was reached. The Orion spacecraft spent roughly three weeks in space, with six days dedicated to a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon. It came within approximately 130 km of the lunar surface and achieved a maximum distance from Earth of 432,210 km. Our chip-equipped HERA monitor will also be included in future NASA Moon missions Artemis II and beyond.