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Thales Alenia Space delivers advanced accelerometer for BepiColombo mission

The flight model of the high-sensitivity ISA (Italian Spring Accelerometer) developed by Thales Alenia Space for BepiColombo, the European Space Agency’s first Mercury exploration mission, was recently delivered to the Italian space agency ASI. It took Thales Alenia Space eight years to develop this advanced instrument. BepiColombo is Europe's first mission to Mercury, the smallest and least explored terrestrial planet in our Solar System. Launch is scheduled for 2017. The accelerometer was delivered at ESA’s ESTEC facility in the Netherlands. Both the Italian space agency and the project team were present for this program milestone, and approved its transfer to ESA for integration on the MPO (Mercury Planetary Orbiter) module. 

ISA’s purpose

The ISA accelerometer will play an essential role (along with the Mercury Orbiter Radio Science Experiment/MORE, also developed by Thales Alenia Space Italy), in the Radio Science Experiment (RSE) carried out by the BepiColombo mission. This experiment primarily aims to precisely characterize Mercury’s gravitational field and measure the planet's orbit around the sun with unprecedented accuracy, thus determining its center of mass. Measurements taken by ISA will be used to characterize and correct the non-gravitational disturbances (i.e., due to the pressure of solar light and the light reflected by the planet) that change the satellite’s orbit in relation to its theoretical position. At the same time the experiment will also perform further tests of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and help resolve certain questions concerning the gravitational constant.

Thales Alenia Space’s role on BepiColombo

BepiColombo is a joint mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA. ISA is the latest contribution by Thales Alenia Space and Italy to ESA's BepiColombo mission. Thales Alenia Space is part of the Core Team, and coordinates 35 European companies on the work package under its responsibility. In particular, Thales Alenia Space is in charge of the telecommunications, thermal control and electric power distribution systems, along with integration and testing of the satellite and support services for the launch campaign. Thales Alenia Space is supplying the X- and Ka-band transponders, onboard computer, mass memory and the high-gain antenna, a 1.1-meter dish used for satellite-ground communications, as well as for the mission's radio science experiment.