(Multimedia) Chinese, French scientists work hand in hand to capture the most distant ‘fireworks’ in the Universe – Xinhua

(Multimedia) Chinese, French scientists work hand in hand to capture the most distant ‘fireworks’ in the Universe – Xinhua
(Multimedia) Chinese, French scientists work hand in hand to capture the most distant ‘fireworks’ in the Universe – Xinhua
A Long March-2C carrier rocket carrying an astronomical satellite, the Space-based Multi-band Variable Object Monitor (SVOM), takes off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province. , June 22, 2024. (Photo: Chen Haojie)

XICHANG, June 22 (Xinhua) — After witnessing the successful launch of a new astronomical satellite at a launch site in southwest China’s Sichuan Province on Saturday, French scientist Bertrand Cordier felt somewhat relieved, but he still had a lot of work to do.

As the satellite’s French principal investigator, Mr. Cordier was a little anxious in recent days. Despite his extensive experience in space projects, this was the first time he had personally supervised a rocket launch.

The satellite, called Space-Based Multi-Band Variable Object Monitor (SVOM), the result of a Sino-French collaboration lasting nearly 20 years, is responsible for capturing the gamma-ray bursts which sparkle like “fireworks” at the borders. the most distant parts of the Universe.

Astronomers call these “fireworks” transient sources. “It’s interesting because it ties into the long history of astronomy in China. China may have been the first civilization to observe the transient sky 4,000 years ago. In this mission, we continue the work started by the Chinese 4,000 years ago,” said Mr. Cordier, who works at the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission.

Generally very short-lived, gamma-ray bursts are the most violent explosive phenomena in the Universe after the Big Bang. They result from the collapse of massive stars or the merger of compact binary stars. In-depth observation and research of gamma-ray bursts will help us understand some of the fundamental questions in science, said Wei Jianyan, a Chinese principal investigator of SVOM who works at the National Astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The main scientific objectives of the SVOM include the detection and rapid localization of various gamma-ray bursts, the measurement and study of the properties of electromagnetic radiation of these bursts, the study of dark energy and the evolution of the Universe through these bursts, and the observation of electromagnetic signals associated with gravitational waves, detailed Mr. Wei.

The design, development and in-orbit operations of the SVOM mission, as well as data analysis and publication of scientific research results, have been or are being carried out by China and France.

With the support of the leaders of the two countries, the mission is part of high-level cooperation between China and France, both major players in space.

This cooperation began as early as the design of the satellite in 2005. During negotiations, Chinese and French scientists debated and clashed over the weight, power consumption and physical space that their respective scientific instruments would have on the satellite , Mr. Wei reminded.

But through sincere dialogue, they achieved their common goal of designing a cutting-edge astronomical satellite.

“The early quarrels have now become pleasant memories for scientists and engineers in our two countries,” Wei said.

Due to the need to communicate in international cooperation and the impact of international situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the development of the satellite took much longer than expected.

“Although we have experienced ups and downs for nearly 20 years, our original goal remains unchanged,” Wei said.

More than 100 scientists and engineers from both sides participated in the long-term development of the satellite. They learned from each other and made the most of each other’s expertise.

The mission promoted mutual understanding between Chinese and French colleagues, who became staunch supporters of Sino-French friendship and cooperation.

“The SVOM mission is a very good attempt at comprehensive cooperation and is of great significance. The cooperation brings scientific feedback to the two countries, promotes advancements in space science and technology, enhances mutual understanding, and strengthens other countries’ confidence in space science cooperation with China,” Wei commented.

Zhang Yonghe, SVOM’s Chinese project manager, has been involved in the mission from the very beginning. Among all the international cooperation projects in which he has participated, the SVOM stands out as the deepest and most complex on several levels, including its long duration and the participation of a significant number of people from both countries.

“The Chinese and French teams have integrated so much with each other that they have become one family. Initially, we used email to communicate, which was later replaced by video conferencing, and now we mainly use WeChat,” said Mr. Zhang.

Mr. Cordier added: “We use WeChat, because in fact when a gamma-ray burst appears in the sky, it would disappear very quickly. So we have to react very quickly. To exchange messages between the French team and the Chinese team, the most effective way is WeChat.”

Aerospace cooperation between China and France has a long history. Since the signing of a cooperation agreement between the two governments in 1997, China and France have collaborated in various fields, including human spaceflight, deep space exploration and Earth observation.

The first satellite developed by the two countries, the China-France oceanographic satellite, was successfully launched in October 2018. In April 2023, when French President Emmanuel Macron visited China, China handed over to France 1, 5 grams of lunar samples collected as part of the Chang’e-5 mission for scientific purposes.

And more recently, the French instrument Detection of Outgassing RadoN (DORN) was sent to the far side of the Moon by the Chinese Chang’e-6 mission.

The past 20 years have seen the rapid development of space science in China, which has now reached a very high level. It is astonishing to see this development, and to see many young Chinese engineers, said Mr. Cordier.

It is important to collaborate with China, which is now a major player in space, and particularly in space sciences, he added. “If we work together, we can do better and more during missions.”

The SVOM is a contribution that Chinese and French scientists and engineers have made to the international astronomical community through years of cooperation, integrating high-tech resources from the two countries, said Liu Yunfeng, deputy director of the international cooperation department of the National Space Administration of China.

France has advantages in aerospace system design, having started earlier in space science research and has gained rich experience through many scientific projects, Liu said. China, for its part, has a large aerospace engineering research team and growing investments, a significant number of technological improvements and launch opportunities, as well as rapid growth in the number of young scientists and engineers, Mr. Liu explained.

“Chinese and French aerospace technologies and resources complement each other. Cooperation can pool cutting-edge technologies and resources, thereby improving the research and development levels of the two countries,” he explained.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France. The SVOM is a historic cooperative mission between the governments of the two countries, characterized by innovative technologies and significant challenges. The two sides have maintained mutual trust and assistance, and the scope of their cooperation is large, deep, extensive and high-quality, which leads to win-win results and provides a model for cooperation between China and other countries. other countries, added Mr. Liu. END

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