PICAM - Planetary Ion Camera

The instrument PICAM is an ion mass spectrometer operating as an all-sky camera for charged particles to study the chain of processes by which neutrals are ejected from the soil, eventually ionised and transported through the environment of Mercury.

Short Description

The ESA/JAXA mission BepiColombo to Mercury will be a milestone of solar system exploration. Mercury is very close to the Sun, a feature which makes in-situ observations very demanding from a technological perspective. An international consortium led by the Institut für Weltraumforschung of the Austrian Academy of Sciences has been selected by the European Space Agency ESA to provide a "Planetary Ion Camera" for the payload of the Mercury Planetary Orbiter to be launched in August 2013.

PICAM will provide the mass composition, energy and angular distribution of ions in the environment of Mercury. These observations will uniquely allow to study the low energy particles emitted from the surface of Mercury, their source regions, composition and ejection mechanisms, and to monitor the solar wind which may impinge on the surface and constitutes a major ejection process. This will allow better understanding of the formation of Mercury's tenuous atmosphere and the plasma within the cavity governed by its magnetic field.

The instrument PICAM combines high spatial resolution, simultaneous measurements in a full hemispheric field of view with a mass range extending up to ~132 atomic mass units (Xenon) and a mass resolution better than 1:50. The instrument consists of a sensor with the ion optics, the detector; and an electronics box. A special feature of the processing electronics is the on-board calculation of the ion mass spectra which is based on raw data obtained by random sampling of the incoming ions.

The PICAM Team is a consortium with major contributions from Austria, France, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Russia, and Ireland. The Space Research Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences leads this investigation and provides the controller and data processing electronics as well as the on-board software: It is also responsible for integration and testing of the instrument against the adverse environmental conditions on Mercury, and participates in the calibration of the ion sensor which is crucial for the success of the mission.

Project Partners


Institut für Weltraumforschung (IWF), Austrian Academy of Sciences - Prof. Wolfgang Baumjohann


  • Space Research Institute (IKI), Russian Academy of Sciences - Dr. Oleg Vaisberg
  • Centre d'étude des Environnements Terrestre et Planétaires (CETP), Institut Pierre Simon Laplace - Dr. Jean-Jacques Berthelier
  • Max-Planck Institut für Sonnensystemforschung (MPS) - Dr. Joachim Woch
  • European Space and Technology Centre (ESTEC) - Dr. Philippe C. Escoubet
  • Research Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics (KFKI), Hungarian Academy of Sciences - Prof. Karoly Szegö
  • Space Technology Ireland, Ltd. (STIL) - Prof. Susan McKenna-Lawlor

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