Friday, October 7, 2016

Advanced Interplanetary Laser Altimeter to Map Surface of Mercury

The BepiColombo Laser Altimeter (BELA) will map the surface of Mars. (Image credit: University of Bern/Ramon Lehmann)
The BepiColombo Laser Altimeter which will help map the surface of Mercury.
(Image Source: University of Bern / Ramon Lehmann)

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

To truly map the surface of Mercury, you need a Laser Altimeter to add the third dimension, to the two dimensions of photography. An advanced Laser Altimeter, to be launched to Mercury on an European space probe in 2018, has just been delivered to the European Space Agency (ESA).

Known as the BepiColombo Laser Altimeter (BELA), it is for a joint European / Japanese space mission to Mercury called BepiColombo. It is the first space-bound laser altimeter built in Europe, developed by a Swiss-German-Spanish team led by the University of Bern.

The BELA will add to the information gathered a few years ago by the Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) on-board NASA's Mercury Messenger space probe. As the first spacecraft to enter Mercury orbit in 2011, at the end of its mission it de-orbited and impacted Mercury last year.

The BepiColombo mission is scheduled to launch in April of 2018 and is expected enter orbit around Mercury in 2024.

The close proximity of Mercury to the Sun made it more difficult to construct a laser altimeter that is reliable. Temperatures on the surface of a satellite orbiting Mercury can reach as high as +290 degrees Fahrenheit / +200 degrees Celsius. Hence, a sophisticated detection system must be included that can handle such high temperatures, because the returning laser pulse from the planet will consist of only a few hundred photons.

The huge power consumption of the laser, in a very short time, was the largest technical hurdle they had to resolve. Such huge power produces noise on the electrical signals. They had to develop new technical solutions, exceeding the requirements normally used for space instruments for grounding the electronics.

The interest in the Planet Mercury, by the University of Bern, is inspired by Albert Einstein, who was appointed as a Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University in 1909. Dr. Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which observed its centennial last year, demonstrated the true reason for the wobble in Mercury's orbit, making an unseen Planet Vulcan tugging on Mercury unnecessary.

Internet Links to Additional Information ---

"Bern-made laser altimeter taking off to Mercury.":
Link >>> http://www.unibe.ch/news/media_news/media_relations_e/media_releases/2016_e/media_releases_2016/bern_made_laser_altimeter_taking_off_to_mercury/index_eng.html

BepiColombo Space Mission: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BepiColombo

Mercury Messenger Space Mission: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MESSENGER

Related Blog Post ---

"Centennial: Einstein's General Theory of Relativity." 2015 Nov. 25.

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2015/11/centennial-einsteins-general-theory-of.html


Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.
             2016 Oct. 7.


                                                               Historic 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope at Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science.
        2016: 75th Year of Pittsburgh's Buhl Planetarium Observatory
     Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2016/01/astronomical-calendar-2016-january.html

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Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director, Friends of the Zeiss: < http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/fotz/ >
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