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CERN will launch its first satellite this week on new European rideshare rocket

The microsatellite CELESTA (CERN Latchup Experiment STudent sAtellite).
The microsatellite CELESTA (CERN Latchup Experiment STudent sAtellite). (Image credit: CERN)

A tiny satellite aims to extend radiation studies conducted by CERN into space.

The cubesat-sized CELESTA (CERN Latchup Experiment STudent sAtellite) is scheduled to launch on Wednesday (July 13) aboard a new European rideshare rocket, called Vega-C. Blastoff is expected (opens in new tab) at 7:13 a.m. EDT (1213 GMT or 8:13 a.m. local time at the launch site in French Guiana), according to the European Space Agency.

Perched above four stacked stages on the booster, the satellite will fly to the center of the inner Van Allen radiation belt, which is a zone of magnetically trapped particles circling above our planet. 

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In this region of high-energy particles, CELESTA seeks to measure radiation's effects on electronics in a cost-effective way, the project website stated (opens in new tab)

For CERN (the European Council for Nuclear Research), the project will extend its existing radiation and fundamental physics work into space shortly after the Large Hadron Collider restarted in April, following a three-year hiatus for upgrades. 

The Large Hadron Collider restarted after a three-year shutdown on April 22, 2022. (Image credit: CERN)

The link between LHC and CELESTA is tight, as the satellite will launch a radiation detector already tested in the extreme environment of the particle accelerator.

The technology is called RadMon, which monitors radiation levels in LHC, CERN officials stated (opens in new tab) in a November 2018 press release discussing the satellite's testing.

"By using RadMon sensors to measure radiation levels in low-Earth orbit, CELESTA will test if RadMon could be used in space missions that are sensitive to radiation, ranging from telecom satellites to navigation and Earth-observation systems," the press release (opens in new tab) added.

Vega-C, a successor to Vega, includes a new "small spacecraft mission service," which — absent a larger satellite on the rocket — could fit about a dozen small satellites at once within a fairing, ESA said in 2019. 

The agency has said the rocket may be eventually used alongside a reusable spacecraft, Space Rider, that could fly payloads to space and glide them on to a runway using a robotic space-shuttle type vehicle.

This first Vega-C launch will have as its principal payload an Italian space agency (ASI) experiment called Laser Relativity Satellite 2 (LARES-2). The satellite will seek to confirm aspects of Einstein's general relativity in spaceflight, ASI stated (opens in new tab).

Riding to space alongside LARES-2 will be CELESTA and five other cubesats, with the smaller satellites all built by European universities and research establishments, ESA officials said.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.