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Advanced Sino-French Satellite Launched to Study Gamma Rays

An advanced spacecraft, jointly developed by China and France, was launched into its preset orbit on Saturday, June 22. The China National Space Administration issued a news release, stating that the spacecraft, “called the Space Variable Objects Monitor, or SVOM, is a combination of small telescopes. It was placed in a low-Earth orbit by a Chinese Long March 2C carrier rocket, launching at 3 pm from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province,” reported China Daily.

“The 930-kilogram spacecraft was constructed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Innovation Academy for Microsatellites in Shanghai. It carries four scientific payloads: the ECLAIRs coded mask camera and the Microchannel X-ray Telescope made by French scientists, and the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor and the Visible Telescope built by the Chinese team.

“It is now the best spacecraft ever built for multi-band comprehensive observation of gamma-ray bursts, and is expected to play an important role in space-based astronomical explorations.”

The coverage further explained, “Initiated in 2005, the SVOM project is the result of a long-term collaboration between the China National Space Administration and France’s National Center for Space Studies. It has involved scientists and engineers from multiple institutes, including the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology in Toulouse and the Institute of High Energy Physics in Beijing.

“Following its orbital deployment, scientists from both China and France will work together to control the satellite, receive scientific data and arrange follow-up observations.

“The main scientific objectives of the SVOM mission include searching for and rapidly locating various gamma-ray bursts, comprehensively measuring and studying the electromagnetic radiation properties of these bursts, studying dark energy and the evolution of the universe through these bursts, and observing electromagnetic signals associated with gravitational waves.”

Gamma-ray bursts were first discovered in 1967, and are extremely high energy bursts that occur primarily when a sun uses up its energy, expands into a supernova, and then collapses into a black hole, or when two neutron stars collide (and then also collapse into a black hole).

These bursts could severely impact the Earth and all life on the planet if one were less than 4,000 light years away and aimed directly at us. But otherwise, our atmosphere protects us from this type of radiation.

Since gamma rays are so high energy, they would pass through the mirrors and lenses of light telescopes, and so a more advanced type of telescope, which is designed to collect and record the incidence of gamma rays was developed. A brief explanation as to how they work can be found on NASA’s website.

Since the United States banned all collaboration between NASA and Beijing in 2011 over concerns regarding “technology transfer,” it will miss out on many scientific discoveries.