PICAM 3 - Planetary Ion Camera for the BepiColombo Mercury Planetary Orbiter

The instrument PICAM combines the features of an ion mass spectrometer with imaging capabilities for charged particles that will allow to study the chain of processes by which neutrals are ejected from the soil, eventually ionised and transported through the environment of Mercury. As a result one will better understand the formation of Mercury's tenuous atmosphere and the plasma within the cavity encompassed by its magnetic field.

Short Description

The mission BepiColombo to Mercury constitutes a milestone of space exploration, as this planet is very close to the Sun, which makes it a unique place in the solar system. At the same time the hot environment poses great technological challenges. An international consortium lead by the Space Research Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences has been selected by the European Space Agency ESA to provide a “Planetary Ion Camera” (PICAM) for the payload of the Mercury Planetary Orbiter to be launched in August 2014.

The instrument PICAM facilitates high spatial resolution, simultaneous measurements in a hemispheric field of view, 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 carrying 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. Narrow budgets for mass, electrical power, and data rate have to be taken into account. The adverse thermal environment demands a highly reflective outer surface.

The PICAM team is a consortium with major contributions from Austria, France, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Russia, Ireland, and Greece. 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 onboard software: It is also responsible for integration and testing of the instrument amidst the adverse environmental conditions at Mercury and participates in the calibration of the ion sensor, which is crucial for the success of the mission.

The present project has been preceded by the instrument design and prototype development and covers the manufacture and testing of the units for qualification and flight as well as the commissioning after launch.

Project Partners


Austrian Academy of Sciences, Space Research Institute (IWF) - Prof. Wolfgang Baumjohann


  • Laboratoire Atmosphères, Milieux, Observations Spatiales (LATMOS), Service d'Aéronomie - Jean-Jacques Berthelier
  • Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) - Joachim Woch
  • Russian Academy of Sciences, Space Research Institute (IKI) - Oleg Vaisberg
  • Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Research Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics (KFKI) - Prof. Karoly Szegö
  • Space Technology Ireland, Ltd. (STIL) - Prof. Susan McKenna-Lawlor
  • European Space and Technology Centre (ESTEC), NL - Philippe C. Escoubet
  • National Observatory of Athens - Institute for Space Applications and Remote Sensing (ISARS) - Ioannis A. Daglis

Contact Address

Austrian Academy of Sciences - Space Research Institute (IWF)
Prof. Wolfgang Baumjohann
Schmiedlstraße 6
A-8042 Graz
E-mail: baumjohann@oeaw.ac.at
Web: www.iwf.oeaw.ac.at