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  • Detector Contract Awarded
    for ESA's Mercury Mission
Jun 2006
PARIS, June 22, 2006 -- The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded a contract to develop a new, near-infrared detector for the visible infrared imaging spectrometer (VN-IMS), a measurement instrument that will be used in BepiColombo, the ESA's mission to the planet Mercury.

The announcement was made today by contract recipient Sofradir, a manufacturer of advanced IR detectors for military, space and industrial applications based in Grenoble, France. The shortwave IR detector (SWIR) that Sofradir will develop, 500 x 256 with 30 µm pitch, will sense radiation both in visible and shortwave IR ranges and will cover detection in a wavelength spectrum from 0.4µm to 2.3 µm on a single detector. It is the first of its kind to be made available in Europe, the company said. The value of the contract was not disclosed. Bepicolumbo.jpg
This composite illustration by MediaLab depicts the BepiColombo spacecraft over the planet Mercury with the planetary orbiter in the foreground and the magnetospheric orbiter in the background. (Image: ESA)

The aim of the BepiColombo mission -- named for the late professor Guiseppe Colombo of the University of Padua, Italy -- is to provide two Mercury orbiting spacecraft, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, that will gather data about the planet's surface. The VN-IMS is part of the proposed MPO payload, which will simultaneously deliver images of the features of Mercury's surface as well as spectra over a minimum wavelength range of 0.5 to 2.2 µm. Sofradir's SWIR detector will be used to capture data for the study of Mercury mineralogy.

Sofradir said it currently has IR detectors deployed in the military surveillance space program, Helios IIA, and in Venus Express, which reached Venusian orbit in April 2006.

Delivery of the sample IR detector is required in early 2007; the actual BepiColombo launch date to Mercury is expected around 2013. For more information, visit:

1. A device designed to convert the energy of incident radiation into another form for the determination of the presence of the radiation. The device may function by electrical, photographic or visual means. 2. A device that provides an electric output that is a useful measure of the radiation that is incident on the device.
A kind of spectrograph in which some form of detector, other than a photographic film, is used to measure the distribution of radiation in a particular wavelength region.  
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