Pioneering instrument on mission to Mercury
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CITY SCIENTISTS KEY FOR PLANET RESEARCHERS
PIONEERING technology created at a university will help scientists get their closest look yet at one of our solar system neighbours.
BepiColombo, a joint mission of the European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, launched in 2018 and is set to become just the the third expedition to reach Mercury, in 2025.
Dr Adrian Martindale, 39, a research associate at the University of Leicester, has been heavily involved in the project since 2003.
He said: “The really novel thing about this mission is that will send two space crafts into orbit around Mercury at the same time.
“This will allow us to more accurately measure what’s going on in the vicinity of the planet and what the impact of that is on its surface. That’s one thing we really want to look at.
“Getting a spacecraft from the Earth towards Mercury is really difficult because as you fall towards the Sun, you accelerate.
“It’s the same thing as if you were jumping out of a tree, you accelerate towards the ground.
“When we fire a probe towards the Sun, it gets pulled in. To combat this, we have to fire rocket engines regularly and go through all of these flybys to keep slowing the probe down so that it can get captured into orbit around the planet.”
As well as gravitational challenges, the temperature shifts rapidly between hot and cold as the spacecraft goes round its orbit, a major challenge faced by previous missions.
Leicester has pioneered technology to be able to handle this and deliver a view of the surface using X-rays.
The Mercury Imagining X-ray Spectrometer (MIXS) was originally spearheaded by Professor George Fraser, at the university, who died in March 2014.
Dr Martindale, said: “Professor Fraser came up with the design of the instrument and the technology that is needed in the optic that we use.
“I worked for him as an undergraduate and during my PhD to look at the original design of the instrument and have been heavily involved in the project ever since.
“Sadly, George passed away just before we delivered the instrument.
“But we put a plaque with his name dedicating the instrument to him on to the MIXS.”