Finnish technology for the Planck satellite

Finland’s most expensive radio ready for space


VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has coordinated the development of an extremely sensitive high-frequency radio receiver for the Planck Mission. The work has now been completed and the receiver will be used to measure cosmic microwave background radiation originating from the early life of the universe. It will help scientists determine, among other things, the age and structure of the universe. The radio is valued at approximately EUR 8 million.

A European Space Agency (ESA) undertaking, the Planck probe will be equipped with a 1.5-metre radio telescope and two receivers: one for measuring lower frequencies, one for higher. The Finnish team designed and constructed the most challenging components of the low-frequency receiver. The development work was lead by VTT and the Finnish firm Elektrobit Microwave was responsible for constructing and testing the equipment.

Signal amplified 500, 000 times

The receiver required several new technical solutions. ”In principle, Planck’s receivers work the same way as a crystal radio,” says Professor Jussi Tuovinen who works for VTT's Millimetre Wave Laboratory of Finland (MilliLab) and is responsible for the component construction for the Finnish Planck project. ”However, the frequency of cosmic background radiation is a thousand times that of ordinary radio transmissions Thus, instead of a wire aerial we use a parabolic aerial that is a radio telescope, and instead of crystals we use diodes and amplifiers to amplify the signal 500,000 times. The most valuable components are the semiconductor chips used in the amplifiers - they cost half billion euros per kilo. Luckily we don't need such large amounts of the 1.4 mm square chips.”

Technology also suits for telecommunications and security applications

The technology developed in the project is already available for use, for example, in security checks, detecting vehicles through fog and telecommunications applications. It is also suitable for high-precision cloud radars and for making unique astronomical discoveries.

Cosmic background radiation tells about the age and structure of the universe

”By 'listening' to cosmic background radiation we can learn about the age and structure of the universe. We will also learn more about the volume and possibly the characteristics of the so-called dark matter. It may also give us insights into the nature of dark energy, which is a recent discovery,” explains Anne Lähteenmäki, an Academy of Finland Research Fellow at the Metsähovi Radio Observatory. She is coordinating the participation of Finnish researchers in the scientific challenges of the Planck project.

The radio receivers are currently being installed in the satellite, which will be launched into space in 2008.

In addition to VTT MilliLab, the other members involved in the Finnish Planck project include the universities of Helsinki and Turku, the Helsinki University of Technology's Metsähovi Radio Observatory, the Helsinki Institute of Physics and Elektrobit Microwave. The project is financed by the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (Tekes), the Academy of Finland, ESA and the research partners involved.

MilliLab is a laboratory jointly run by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the Helsinki University of Technology. MilliLab is also an ESA External Laboratory on Millimetre Wave Technology.


Additional information

VTT is an impartial expert organisation. Its objective is to develop new technologies, create new innovations and value added thus increasing customer's competencies. With its know how VTT produces research, development, testing and information services to public sector and companies as well as international organisations.