TICRA’s software optimises radiation capture on ESA’s Planck satellite

TICRA is playing an important role in ESA’s mission to capture the first cosmic radiation emitted from the early universe. The European Space Agency (ESA) has given TICRA the task of ascertaining the perfect position and setting of the satellite’s mirrors in order for them to optimally capture cosmic background radiation for purposes of research aboard the Planck spacecraft.

Many scientists agree that Cosmic Background Radiation originates from about 300,000 years after the “Big Bang,” which sparked the creation of our universe. Researchers believe that the radiation variations, occurring over billions of years, have enabled the births of stars and planets, and that understanding cosmic radiation will help us understand our universe.

Optimal positioning of the mirrors is a must

Planck’s mission is to map variations in the cosmic background radiation at whole new accuracy standards, and, for this purpose, the positions of the mirrors that capture the radiation are crucial to achieve this goal. ESA needed sophisticated software that could simulate radiation capture performance in different conditions, and then could apply the data in engineering the mirrors on Planck.

- The big challenge was that such high accuracy requires mirrors with a surface that is smoother than any ever seen before, says Senior Research Engineer Per H. Nielsen of TICRA.

TICRA’s GRASP software simulates mirror performance

TICRA specialises in software that helps design and set up antennas for the best possible reception. TICRA’s software, called “GRASP,” can simulate how tiny flaws on the surface of the mirror will affect the mirror’s capability to capture the radiation from space. ESA can use GRASP’s results in two ways – to prevent inaccuracies in the design as much as possible and to correct any errors in the measurement results.

- The best thing, of course, would be if one could prevent the occurrence of all errors. However, it is simply impossible to manufacture a mirror surface which is completely smooth within micro-meter accuracy. Therefore, researchers rely on our software that can reliably record and account for measurement errors, says Per H. Nielsen.

TICRA has been linked to the Planck project since it began in 1996, and has also applied its expertise in relation to other tasks.

The GRASP software is applied in other Big Science projects

Microwaves are used for many things, such as heating of food, tele-communications in mobile phones, radars controlling flight traffic, and in connection with science research – in this case, for heating and stabilizing plasma in connection with the development of fusion energy. The Italian research center, ENEA-CNR, needed to develop a system that could control microwaves when stabilizing plasma in the international fusion experiment ITER. ENEACNR selected TICRA’s GRASP for simulating the microwave control processes as they developed the solution.

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