BepiColombo Planetary Ion Camera 4

Short Description

Starting point / motivation

PICAM (Planetary Ion Camera) is an ion mass Spectrometer for the mission BepiColombo to the planet Mercury. The instrument has been developed and built as a joint effort of institutions from Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland and Russia (up to 2011) from 2007 to 2016 and it is one of the four sensors of the so-called SERENA (Search for Exospheric Refilling and Emitted Natural Abundances) instrument suite. The PICAM consortium was led by the Institut für Weltraumforschung (IWF) of the Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften in Graz.

The joint ESA (European Space Agency) and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) mission BepiColombo was launched in 2018. As the Co-PI institution IWF is now also responsible for maintaining and operating the instrument during cruise phase and planetary flyby campaigns, during checkout session and finally during the nominal mission phase at Mercury from 2026.

Preliminary data obtained from the Earth flyby and the first Venus flyby are promising, but these flyby campaigns also showed, that additional tools are crucial for both the cross-check of the acquired data and the provision of forecast information for the operation planning of campaigns, during the cruise and the nominal mission phase to assure the expected science return.

Contents and goals

The PICAM-4 project plans to adapt the existing AIKEF code (Adaptive Ion-Kinetic Electron-Fluid) and develop a tool to satisfy the PICAM needs. The code is state-of-the-art with its hybrid plasma simulation scheme and is well suited to study planetary plasma environment like Mercury and Venus.


The project will incorporate numerical simulations dedicated to ion measurements to determine ion phase-space data and the velocity distribution function data in order to gain information and forecast on the ion energy spectra, field of view and the of flow direction and number flux for different ion species.

This is seen as a highly iterative process as to forecast by and feedback to the simulation model. The process will start with the development of an analysis tool to compare simulation data directly with already existing PICAM measurements.

Expected results

Finally the project aims for a flexible tool that supports both short-term and strategic planning of science cases as well as the measurement validation. As such, it shall improve the PICAM and SERENA science return and assure the expected contribution to BepiColombo’s scientific objectives.

Project Partners


Austrian Academy of Sciences - Institute for Space Research

Contact Address

Austrian Academy of Sciences
Institute for Space Research
Dipl.-Ing. Gunter Laky
Schmiedlstraße 6
A-8042 Graz