Space scientists get the right MIXS

Posted by pt91 at Jul 28, 2014 12:25 PM |
New X-ray instrument built by Leicester team now entering testing phase

A team of scientists and engineers at the University of Leicester have completed the build of the flight model of the Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer (MIXS) instrument destined for Mercury on the BepiColombo Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) spacecraft, due for launch in mid-2016.

The UK element of the instrument, funded by the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA), will include the first demonstration of the use of novel X-ray optics built from coated glass microchannel plates which individually weigh a few grams. MIXS is therefore a significant advancement on classically designed X-ray mirrors weighing many kilograms. The instrument will now undergo extensive testing until it is delivered to ESA later in the year.

The BepiColombo mission to Mercury is a joint project between ESA and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), with ESA providing the MPO and JAXA providing the Mercury Magnetosphere Orbiter (MMO). The two-spacecraft mission will investigate the interior structure and surface of Mercury, and will investigate the magnetic field and dynamic magnetosphere around the Sun’s nearest planet. By measuring fluorescent X-rays from the surface, MIXS will achieve the main science goal which is to provide a detailed analysis of the surface elemental composition of Mercury to aid the understanding of the planet’s evolution and formation processes. The MIXS data set will also provide information on surface-exosphere-magnetosphere interactions.

The instrument team in the University of Leicester’s Space Research Centre (SRC), part of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, is led by Jim Pearson, Adrian Martindale, Chris Thomas and Jon Sykes with colleagues in the department. The project includes hardware contributions from international colleagues  at the University of Helsinki/Finnish Meteorological Institute (Finland), Max Planck Institutes (MPS, MPE, MPG-HLL, with PNSensor, Germany), and the Centro de Astrobiologia/ Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (Spain). The team have worked hard to design and build the instrument which needs to survive the harsh temperatures expected so close to the Sun.

The instrument is dedicated to Professor George Fraser, who, until his untimely death, was the instrument Principal Investigator (PI). The team is now led by Professor Emma Bunce as Principal Investigator, who will head the project through to mission operations in 2024. Professor Karri Muinonen (University of Helsinki) is the instrument Co-Principal Investigator, and Professor David Rothery (Open University) is the UK lead scientist.