Flying Space Missions


iaps-bepi-colomboBepiColombo is Europe’s first mission to Mercury. It was launched in October 2018 on a journey to the smallest and least explored terrestrial planet in our Solar System. When it arrives at Mercury, it will endure temperatures in excess of 350 °C and gather data during its 1 year nominal mission, with a possible 1-year extension. The mission comprises two spacecraft: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). BepiColombo is a joint mission between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

At IAPS, BepiColombo will be one of the main activities of the next ten years, with the PIship of ISA (accelerometer) and Serena (analysis of neutral and ionized particles) and cooperation with other experiments.

IAPS’ Serena ESA’s Bepi Colombo ESA Science and technology


CSES is a mission of China National Space Administration and the Italian Space Agency. The satellite, 3-axis attitude stabilized, is based on the Chinese CAST2000 platform. It is placed at a 98° Sun-synchronous circular orbit at an altitude of 500 km, since February 2018 and has an expected lifetime of 5 years. The main objective of the mission is the monitoring of perturbations in the ionosphere, and magnetosphere and the Van Allen belts due to electromagnetic phenomena of natural and anthropogenic origin, and to study their correlations with seismic events. Furthermore, CSES mission allows the study of the physical properties of the ionospheric plasma at the satellite altitude, and to characterize the ionosphere in quiet and disturbed conditions. Cosmic and solar physics studies, namely Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), solar flares, solar energetic particles (SEPs), cosmic ray modulation, X-rays variation are other relevant topics that can be covered by the mission as well. Italy participates with several universities and research institutes. INFN and INAF are directly involved in instrumental development and test respectively. The High-Energy Particle Detector (HEPD), developed by the INFN and several Italian universities, detects high energy electrons, protons and light nuclei. Its main objective is to measure the increase of the electron and proton flux due to short-time perturbations of Earth’s environment caused by cosmic, solar, and terrestrial phenomena. The energy range explored is 5-100 MeV for electrons and 15-300 MeV for protons. Four Electric Field Detectors (EFD) have been specifically designed to allow the monitoring of electromagnetic fields (from DC to 3.5 MHz) for the study of ionospheric disturbances possibly related to seismic activity and earthquake preparation mechanisms. In particular, the mission aims at analysing the temporal correlation between seismic events and the occurrence of electromagnetic perturbations. The environmental plasma parameters, including ion density, ion temperature, ion drift velocity, ion composition and ion density fluctuation, are monitored by the CSES Plasma Analyser (PA) and by two Langmuir probes (Lp) developed by CSSAR-CAS. The EFDs have been designed in collaboration between the Lanzhou Institute of Physics and the Italian INFN (Rome-Tor Vergata section) and IAPS-INAF Institute in Rome. Two versions of EFD with different electronics have been developed by Chinese and Italian teams and their functionalities compared one each other and tested at the Plasma Chamber at IAPS-INAF as well as the Plasma Analyzer and Langmuir probes, in order to check their sensitivity in detecting the ionospheric plasma parameters.

IAPS gives an important contribution to the mission profile. In particular, to provide and arrange the Plasma Chamber Facility to perform Functional Tests and Calibrations on several Chinese payloads of CSES satellite: Langmuir Probe (LP), Retarding Potential Analyser (RPA), Ion Capture Meter (ICM), Ion Drift Meter (IDM), Electric Field Detector (EFD).  A specific experimental activity was dedicated to test an EFD Prototype designed by INFN Sect. Rome “Tor Vergata”. INAF-IAPS has collaborated to the design of this sensor which has been used for comparative tests vs the Chinese EFD payload. INAF-IAPS is a leading Institute for the CSES Science definition and flight Data Analysis and Interpretation of the Mission Results. The main task of these activities are:
– Study of magnetosphere/ionosphere coupling processes on fields and plasma parameters.
– Analysis of ionospheric turbulence and plasma parameter day/night asymmetry along CSES orbit.
– Study of variability on CSES plasma environment and ionospheric fields caused by Solar energetic particles.
– Implementation of a database of space observables to evaluate the external forcing perturbations on the ionospheric environment at CSES altitude.
– Development of a web interface for database sharing among science teams.
– Plasma Chamber tests on payloads to clarify ambiguous response shown by data analysis.

Sito CSES IAPS INFN website Sito ASI

iaps-exomarsThe main scientific objectives of the ExoMars mission are the search for past and present life on Mars, the geochemical characterization of the planet, knowledge of the Martian environment and its geophysical aspects and identification of possible risks for future human missions.

Two missions are planned for the ExoMars program: an Orbiter with an Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module launched in 2016 and a Rover scheduled for 2020. The two projects are implemented by ESA with Roscosmos’ cooperation.

Italy has a strong participation in the mission and the INAF-IAPS is involved in the instruments NOMAD (Nadir and Occultation for MArs Discovery) to analyze gases in martian atmosphere and MA_MISS (Mars Multispectral Imager for Subsurface Studies) spectrometer for the analysis of  geological and biological evolution of the Martian subsurface.

ESA’s ExoMars ASI’s ExoMars

iaps-JunoJuno is the only existing mission to the outer planets presently approved by NASA. It is devoted to the study of the inner structure and the atmosphere of Jupiter and will also be of great importance in view of the understanding the internal structure of extrasolar planets.

Previous participation of IAPS to the mission Cassini has permitted the formation of scientists that were able to take part to this mission with JIRAM, the Italian near-infrared mapping spectrometer to be sent to Jupiter.

IAPS’ Juno NASA’s Juno University of Wisconsin-Madison Southwest Research Institute

Herschel is Europe’s far infrared space observatory that was launched on May 2009 and is actually being operated by ESA. IAPS has the national coordination of the project, to which are participating the Institute of Radioastronomy (IRA), the LENS of  Arcetri, the Observatories of Arcetri, Padua and Trieste and the Department  of Astronomy of the University of Padua.

IAPS also directly contributes to the mission developing the date Processing Unit (DPU) and the on-board software (OBS) of the 3 instruments, participating to the 3 Instrument Control Center (ICC) and to the maintenance of the OBS.


ESA’s Herschel


AGILE is a space Scientific Mission devoted to gamma-ray astrophysics supported by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), with scientific participation of the Italian Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) and the Italian Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN).

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has assigned the 2012 Bruno Rossi Price to Marco Tavani (AGILE Principal Investigator) and to the AGILE team for the discovery of transient gamma-ray emission from the Crab Nebula.


iaps-dawnDawn was launched from Cape Canaveral on September 26th 2007. Its goal is to characterize the conditions and processes of the Solar System’s earliest epoch by investigating in detail two of the largest protoplanets remaining intact since their formations: Ceres and Vesta, 2 asteroids of the asteroid belt.

Each of them has followed a very different evolutionary path constrained by the diversity of processes that operated during the first few million years of solar system evolution. One of the 3 experiments of Dawn is VIR, the imaging spectrometer provided by IAPS.

IAPS’ Dawn JPL’s Dawn NASA’s Dawn


Venus Express was intended to use the know-how and the instrumentations already tested for Mars Express and Rosetta for a mission to Venus. The primary scientific goal is the study of the planet’s atmosphere.

IAPS was deeply involved in the building of the image spectrometer VIRTIS VEX  for the spectral range and of the PFS (similar to the one onboard Mars Express). VIRTIS is providing unique results about the South Pole, the clouds and the mineralogical composition of the surface. PFS due to pointing problems, is temporarily not working. Moreover, IAPS also contributed to the technological realization of VEX/ASPERA-4.

IAPS’ VIRTIS ESA’s Venus Express ESA science and technology webpage

MRO is a multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Mars from orbit. It was launched August 12, 2005, and attained Martian orbit on March 10, 2006 when it began its primary science phase.

IAPS contributed to MRO’s Shallow Subsurface Radar (SHARAD) experiment, designed to probe the internal structure of the Martian polar ice caps. It also gathers planet-wide information about underground layers of ice, rock and possibly liquid water that might be accessible from the surface. SHARAD uses HF radio waves to resolve layers as thin as 7 m to a maximum depth of 1 km.

SHARAD is designed to operate in conjunction with Mars Express’s MARSIS, which has lower resolution but penetrates to a much greater depth. Both SHARAD and MARSIS were made by the Italian Space Agency.



Rosetta spacecraft is the first to undertake the long-term exploration of a comet at close distance. It includes a large orbiter designed to operate for a decade at large distances from the Sun, and a small lander. Asteroids Steinz and Lutetia fly-by have been succesfully performed, in 2008 and 2010 respectively. The next step in Rosetta journey will be the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko rendezvous manoeuvres in May 2014.

IAPS contributed to the Rosetta mission developing the VIRTIS experiment, an imaging spectrometer that will map in detail the composition and temperature of the comet’s nucleus.

IAPS’ Rosetta ESA’s Rosetta ESA Science and technology


Mars Express is the first planetary mission attempted by ESA. The Orbiter has been successfully performing scientific measurements since Early 2004, namely, high-resolution imaging and mineralogical mapping of the surface, radar sounding of the subsurface structure down to the permafrost, precise determination of the atmospheric circulation and composition, and study of the interaction of the atmosphere with the interplanetary medium.

IAPS has contributed to this Mission with the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS)and is also involved in the Radar Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS).

ESA’s page on PFS ESA’s Mars Express


INTEGRAL is an ESA mission, built in collaboration with Russia (responsible for the launcher) and USA (that contributed the Deep Space Network). INTEGRAL is the first space observatory made to observe the sky in the gamma ray, X and visible windows.

IBIS, the imaging instrument onboard, was designed to provide to the scientific community a combination of wide field imaging capacity in high energy, multiband spettroscopy, and high resoultion timing capacity in X and gamma ray.

INTEGRAL Galactic Plane Scanning Integral latest news ESA Science and technology


Cassini is international collaboration among NASA, ESA and ASI devoted to the study of the Saturn system with particular attention to its largest moon, Titan. The mission has been very succesfull and an extention has been recently approved.In particular, data of the mission allowed to study the system of Saturn in detail. Such data have allowed to identify the characteristics of the satellite surfaces, to study the complex atmosphere of Saturn and to make detailed investigation of Titan.

IAPS is in the Science team of Cassini, after having contributed to the payload development with the visible channel of VIMS (Visual and Infrared Mapping spectrometer).

IAPS’ Cassini-Huygens JPL’s Cassini-Huygens ESA’s Cassini-Huygens