JUNE 22--Sofradir (Grenoble, France; www.sofradir.com), a developer and manufacturer of advanced infrared (IR) detectors for military, space, and industrial applications, has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop a near-IR detector for the Visible Infrared Imaging spectrometer (VN-IMS), a measurement instrument that will be used in BepiColombo, the ESA's space mission to Mercury. The aim of BepiColombo is to provide two Mercury orbiting spacecraft, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO),that will gather data about the planet's surface. The VN-IMS is part of the proposed MPO payload, which will simultaneously deliver images of the features of Mercury's surface as well as spectra over a minimum wavelength range of 0.5 to 2.2 μm. The role of Sofradir's short-wavelength IR (SWIR) detector will be to capture data for the study of Mercury mineralogy.
The SWIR detector that Sofradir will develop, 500 x 256 with 30-μm pitch, will sense radiation both in visible and SWIR ranges. This new detector will cover detection in a wavelength spectrum from 0.4 to 2.3 μm on a single detector, reportedly the first of its kind to be made available in Europe.
For this space project, Sofradir will be extending the sensitivity of its SWIR range to visible range, which is a breakthrough in hyperspectral application. Previously, this kind of application needed two detectors--one visible detector for the panchromatic instrument and one SWIR detector for the IR spectrum. "With this new generation, both visible and SWIR ranges can be sensed in a single detector, enabling an all important reduction in system cost," explained Philippe Chorier, space project program manager at Sofradir.
Sofradir currently has IR detectors deployed in the military surveillance space program, Helios IIA, and in Venus Express, which reached Venusian orbit in April 2006. The BepiColombo contract is a first step for Sofradir in the program's Definition Study process. Delivery of the sample IR detector is required early 2007. The actual BepiColombo launch date to Mercury is expected around 2013.