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SwRI develops miniaturized, ultra-lightweight charged particle detector for space research

San Antonio -- October 25, 1999 -- Scientists at Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®) announced today that they have successfully performed the initial validation of the Ion and Electron Spectrometer (IES), developed for the Rosetta comet orbiter mission of the European Space Agency (ESA).

The instrument was built with extreme miniaturization of its electronic systems and was fabricated from magnesium to achieve a total mass of only 1,040 grams. Despite its small size, IES was shown in laboratory tests to achieve a sensitivity comparable to that of instruments weighing five times more.

"The miniaturization of these instruments adds up to a considerable savings in cost, mass, volume, and power," says Dr. James L. Burch, vice president of the SwRI Instrumentation and Space Research Division and IES principal investigator. "We're pleased that the system worked flawlessly."

The engineering qualification model was operated under space environment conditions with all measured parameters meeting or exceeding design specifications, including its inherently high angle and energy resolution (5 degrees and 4 percent, respectively).

The instrument will simultaneously measure the flux of electrons and ions surrounding Comet Wirtanen over an energy range extending from the lower limits of detectability, near 1 electron volt, up to 22,000 electron volts. It uses a novel, electrostatic scanning technique to view particles from directions encompassing 70 percent of the celestial sphere. The instrument will be delivered to ESA in early 2000. Development was sponsored by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

During the mission, Rosetta will use remote-sensing instruments to map and examine the surface of Comet Wirtanen. Other instruments, including IES, will analyze the dust and gases that emanate from the surface as it is warmed by the sun. The Rosetta mission will be one of the most thorough investigations of a comet ever attempted.

With its low mass and a power input of less than 2 watts, the IES instrument is suitable for a variety of interplanetary and Earth-orbiting satellite missions requiring extreme limits on mass, volume, and power. These include the upcoming NASA Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and Pluto/Kuiper Belt missions, as well as microsatellite missions that will dynamically image the Earth's magnetosphere.


For more information about the Ion and Electron Spectrometer, Dr. James L. Burch at (210) 522-2526 or Maria Stothoff, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, P.O. Drawer 28510, San Antonio, Texas, 78228-0510, Phone (210) 522-3305, Fax (210) 522-3547. 

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