Aug 18, 2022
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Cosmic rays are extremely high-energy subatomic particles – mostly protons and atomic nuclei accompanied by electromagnetic emissions – that move through space, eventually bombarding the Earth’s surface. They travel at nearly the speed of light, which is about I300 000 kilometers per second.


The lowest energy cosmic rays are produced by ordinary stars like the Sun. For example, during a solar flare many particles are ejected from the Sun. Cosmic radiation consists of high-energy charged particles, x-rays and gamma rays produced in space. Charged particles react with the earth’s atmosphere to produce secondary radiation which reaches the earth. 


Beyond low earth orbit, space radiation could put astronauts at significant risk for radiation sickness and increased lifetime risk for cancer, central nervous system effects and degenerative diseases. Cosmic radiation also endangers electronic systems. 

Now. Tel Aviv University (TAU) scientists have developed the “COTS- (commercial off-the-shelf) Capsule” that protects electronic systems from hazardous radiation effects in space. TauSat-3 is a technological demonstrator of the COTS-Capsule, an innovative space mechanism for detecting and mitigating cosmic-rays induced damage to space systems. 


The satellite was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, onboard a Falcon 9 rocket as part of the SpaceX CRS-24 mission. It was then transferred via the Cargo Dragon C209 spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). The satellite was successfully installed and put into operation at the International Space Station (ISS). The satellite connected via the ISS datalink network and communicated successfully with ground stations.


The mission to the ISS is the next stage in a technology development program for a novel unobtrusive apparatus to enable the use of COTS electronics in space. This is regarded as a “game-changer solution” to the space industry that has a substantial economic impact. It will facilitate rapid, low-cost, and high-performance space system design and manufacturing. 


The Axiom-1 mission provides a rare opportunity to test this technology onboard the ISS as well as conduct a complementary pedagogical outreach program on a national mission of sending the second Israeli astronaut to spaceThe TauSat-3 satellite to space. 


TauSat-3, which is approximately the size of a shoebox, was carefully designed and built by the university’s team of experts and will examine the performance of a novel radiation detecting and active protective mechanism to guard electronics from cosmic radiation induced hazardous phenomena. 


The COTS-Capsule will make possible the use of modern commercial electronic systems in space, by incorporating them into the protected environment inside the “COTS-Capsule” and operating them in that environment. According to the researchers, this is a mechanism that has revolutionary potential in the field of satellites and space-systems as well as a significant economic impact.


The study was headed by doctoral candidate Yoav Simhony, from the School of Electrical Engineering, together with the head of the School of Physics and Astronomy, Prof. Erez Etzion and Prof. Ofer Amrani from the Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, head of the Small Satellite Laboratory. 


It is noteworthy that the COTS-Capsule is expected to be included in the series of groundbreaking experiments that are to be conducted as part of the “Rakia” [Sky] mission guided by the Ramon Foundation and the Israel Space Agency.


Eytan Stibbe, who is due to become the second Israeli in space, will be launched for a mission at the ISS next month. Stibbe is expected to conduct dozens of experiments for leading researchers from a number of universities and commercial companies in Israel.  


Etzion and Amrani explained that “integration of the COTS-Capsule will provide a rare opportunity to examine the building blocks of this technology in space. In addition to the academic research, the space mission is leveraging and promoting an educational-scientific program in the field of space and radiation.” 


Doctoral student and principal investigator Simhony added that “currently, electronic equipment sent to space must be specifically modified to prevent cosmic radiation induced effects. The protection provided by the COTS-Capsule will enable the use of commercial off the shelf components in space, thus opening the door to the use of advanced electronic components, while significantly shortening both development times and reducing the costs of space products.”


In addition, partners to the success of the project are (from TAU) Dolev Bashi, Elad Sagi, Dr. Yan Benhammou, Dr. Igor Zolkin, Dr. Meir Ariel, Baruch Meirovich and the workshop staff, Orly Bloomberg, Edward Karat, Lily Almog and the procurement team, Yasmin Miller Zangi and the legal team and several students of electrical engineering, software and physics. From Afeka College are Dr. Alex Segal and the Israel Aircraft Industries.