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2014, the year of the thaw for SVOM

For several years, researchers, engineers and technicians of IRAP (Paul Sabatier University of Toulouse and CNRS) are involved in the Franco-Chinese mission SVOM (Space-based multiband astronomical Variable Objects Monitor) whose objective is to detect and study GRBs, these intense bursts of high-energy photons generated by catastrophic cosmic phenomena. Jean-Luc Atteia, astronomer at the IRAP, reports on the major contribution of the IRAP to the SVOM mission for which 2014 promises to be the "Year of the thaw."

2014, the year of the thaw for SVOM

For the SVOM Mission, 2014 will be remembered as the year of the thaw. The decisions taken at the government level in March, then by space agencies in August, helped revive this beautiful mission which aims to study gamma-ray bursts, after a long frozen period of the project.

Following these developments, two important meetings to restart the mission (kick-off meetings) were held in September, the one at the CNES Toulouse and the other one in China at Shanghai. These meetings have officially launched a detailed design phase (Phase B) which will take place over 22 months and will conclude with a review (Preliminary Design Review or PDR). The passage of this review is expected to start the building of the instruments and, in the longer term, to launch the SVOM mission at the end of 2021 On this date, SVOM will be the most powerful satellite dedicated to the detection of gamma-ray bursts in activity.

The SVOM mission

The SVOM mission is undertaken in the framework of bilateral cooperation between France and China. Its aim is the detailed study of gamma-ray bursts, intense bursts of high-energy photons attributed to catastrophic cosmic events such as the explosion of very massive stars or the merger of two neutron stars.

The specificity of this mission relies on the multi-wavelength observation of gamma ray bursts. On board the satellite will be associated four instruments: a gamma imaging spectrometer that will trigger the burst alert (ECLAIRs), a gamma detector array operating at a higher energy (GRM), an X-ray telescope (MXT) and a telescope operating in the visible domain (VT). With its space-based telescopes, SVOM will give the position of the bursts in near real time via a VHF antenna network judiciously placed under the track of the satellite on the Earth's surface. This information will then be transmitted to a set of ground-based robotic telescopes. Two telescopes, the one located in China, the other one in Mexico, will then refine the position and estimate the distance of the burst. A few minutes only after the explosion, all information will be available so that the event can be observed by 8 to 10 meters telescopes equipped with powerful spectrographs.

SVOM and the IRAP


The SVOM project is a cooperation between the China National Space Administration (CNSA), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the CNES, which is the prime contractor for French supplies. The Chinese and French laboratories involved in the SVOM Mission are: the NAOC and IHEP in Beijing, the XIOPM in Xi'an, the SECM in Shanghai, the CEA-IRFU at Saclay, the IRAP in Toulouse, the APC in Paris and the LAM in Marseille. The French contribution includes two onboard instruments: ECLAIRs and MXT, the antenna array of the VHF warning system and the French scientific center.

The IRAP plays a critical role in preparing the SVOM mission by ensuring several technical and scientific responsibilities: Scientific responsibility of the ECLAIRs instrument, implementation of the detection plane of ECLAIRs, contribution to the data analysis pipeline of the MXT and contribution to the achievement of a telescope equipped with an infrared camera to follow, from the ground, the gamma-ray bursts.

The objectives of the SVOM mission are at the heart of the scientific activities of the IRAP, as it is to observe the birth of black holes following the explosions of massive stars and the violent physical phenomena that accompany them. SVOM is also expected to confirm the astrophysical nature of signals to be detected by the new generation of gravitational wave detectors under construction.

Further Resources :

IRAP Contact :

  • Jean-Luc Atteia,
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