The Sino-French astronomy mission Svom, will scan the cosmos from 2022 to flush out "gamma-ray bursts", enormous energy rays released during the death of stars and in particular distant stars, thus allowing astronomers to go back in time until the youth of the universe.
"If we manage to observe a star that is very far away, we will be able to go back in time, at the time of the constitution of the universe shortly after the Big Bang", explained Thursday Jean-Luc Atteia member of Irap (Institute for Research in Astrophysics and Planetology) and scientific manager of the mission during a press conference at CNES (National Center for Space Studies) in Toulouse.
In June 2022, a Long March rocket will take the Svom satellite to an altitude of 600 km from the Xichang base in the Sichuan region.
Initially scheduled for 2021, the launch was a few months late due to "technical problems" but especially the pandemic which prevented French teams from traveling to China, details François Gonzalez, the head of the Svom project.
This first space mission between China and France was decided "in 2006 as part of an intergovernmental agreement during Jacques Chirac's trip" to China, underlines the project leader.
The main objective of the Svom (Space Variable Objects Monitor) mission is the observation of "gamma-ray bursts", short very high energy radiation emissions, very luminous phenomena which occur when a star dies.
This one-tonne satellite will carry four instruments, two of which have been designed by France, the ECLAIRs telescope which must detect and locate gamma-ray bursts, and the MXT telescope for observing gamma-ray bursts.
The mission and the satellite are under Chinese responsibility while the instruments and ground operations are shared between China and France.
CNES will be the contracting authority for all of the French contribution amounting to 110 million euros excluding human resources.
François Gonzalez concedes that this cooperation "is special": "We must protect our know-how and our technology", he explains, specifying that the French instruments will be sealed and that CNES teams will participate in their assembly on the satellite.
"In 2010, the Svom project almost died", continues the project manager, explaining that certain technological components "classified as sensitive had been deemed non-exportable by the Americans who define the rules of international trade".
This satellite should also make it possible to continue observations on gravitational waves.
These distortions of space-time, predicted in 1915 by Albert Einstein in his theory of relativity, were confirmed a hundred years later by observation.
© 2020 AFP