New Sensor Developed To Scan Planetary, Lunar Atmospheres
October 7, 2013

New Sensor Developed To Scan Planetary, Lunar Atmospheres

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have announced the development of a groundbreaking sensor that could eventually be used to scan the atmospheres of Jupiter’s moons and other planetary bodies.

Referred to as a terahertz receiver, the sensor was developed under a partnership involving several European research institutions.

“The unique sensor is compact, light-weight, robust and operates at room temperature, a necessity for satellite missions requiring many years of operation,” said Jan Stake, a professor at Chalmers University of Technology and project leader.

The remote scanning of atmospheric gases and vapors is a powerful tool for environmental monitoring, astronomy, and planetary research. The receiver’s compact, light-weight and robust design makes it particularly well-suited for space exploration. The Swedish researchers said they were able to achieve their vision by minimizing the number of components in the receiver and successfully integrating all of its subcomponents.

According to the scientists, the receiver is optimized for frequencies in the 520 to 590 GHz range, which is a significant frequency range for detecting water vapor and other important atmospheric gases. Through the use of high performance semiconductor devices, project engineers have achieved record performance in terms of sensitivity.

“The results demonstrate that the receiver is very well suited for remote sensing of atmospheres and astronomical objects,” Stake said. “Due to its small mass and input power, the receiver is particularly suited for planetary missions such as ESA’s JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) mission.”

The sensor is a result of the TeraComp project, a collaborative effort between European research institutions and industry, funded by the European Commission.

“Thanks to the collaboration and results generated within the TeraComp project, Omnisys has further strengthened its position in terahertz receiver technology,” Martin Kores, CEO of Omnisys Instruments, which was responsible for design elements and the integration of parts. “We are now selected as a partner and supplier of the 557-GHz channel in the Industrial Consortium for SWI, which is the submillimetre wave instrument for the JUICE mission.”

JUICE is slated for launch in 2022 from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana and is scheduled to arrive at Jupiter in 2030. The plan is to spend at least three years making detailed observations of Jupiter’s moons.

"Jupiter is the archetype for the giant planets of the Solar System and for many giant planets being found around other stars," explained Alvaro Giménez Cañete, ESA's Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. "JUICE will give us better insight into how gas giants and their orbiting worlds form, and their potential for hosting life."

With the moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto all thought to hold internal oceans, JUICE will study their potential for hosting life.

JUICE will fly by Europa twice and Callisto, the most cratered object in the Solar System, once. The mission envisions taking the first measurements of the thickness of Europa's icy crust and locating sites for future exploration. While in orbit around Ganymede, it will study the moon’s icy surface and internal structure, including its subsurface ocean.