First NGP measurements at Mercury
- Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali (IAPS), Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF), Via del Fosso del Cavaliere 100 00 133, Roma, Italy (firstname.lastname@example.org))
ISA (Italian Spring Accelerometer) is a scientific payload of the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) module of the ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission to planet Mercury and it is the first high-sensitivity accelerometer on-board an interplanetary spacecraft. It will be one of the key instruments to perform Radio Science Experiments during the orbital phase. The instrument is sensitive to any acceleration, greater than 10-8 ms-2Hz-1/2, perturbing the free fall of the spacecraft in the overall gravity field. The main goal of ISA is indeed to measure the so-called Non Gravitational Perturbations (NGP) allowing to reconstruct, a posteriori, the motion of the spacecraft on a geodesic of spacetime. During the first Mercury flyby, performed in October 2021, the spacecraft approached the target planet reaching an altitude above its surface of only 200 km. Thanks to this very low altitude and to the ISA on-board position in cruise configuration, far away from the center of mass of the overall composite spacecraft, the accelerometer has been able to clearly detect the gravity gradient accelerations. Indeed, this is the first direct measurement of the gravity gradient acceleration induced on a spacecraft by the gravity field of a celestial object different from the Earth. Near the closest approach to the planet, the spacecraft entered in eclipse, losing the effect of the solar radiation pressure acting on its surfaces exposed to the Sun. As a consequence, a sudden change of the acceleration was clearly detected by the accelerometer; the measured signal has a magnitude aligned with the expectations, computed considering optical coefficients and spacecraft attitude. In June 2022, BepiColombo will carry out a second flyby that will be very similar, in terms of altitude, attitude and B-plane coordinates, to the first one, representing an almost unique opportunity to compare two similar measurements.
How to cite: De Filippis, U., Lefevre, C., Lucchesi, D., Lucente, M., Magnafico, C., Peron, R., and Santoli, F.: First NGP measurements at Mercury, Europlanet Science Congress 2022, Granada, Spain, 18–23 Sep 2022, EPSC2022-1260, https://doi.org/10.5194/epsc2022-1260, 2022.