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Techniques et missions spatiales



Artist's impression of the BepiColombo Mercury Planetary Orbiter in orbit around Mercury. Copyright : ESA

The objective of this European mission is twofold: BepiColombo must study the internal structure, the composition and the magnetic field of Mercury but more generally, thanks to the data collected, gather general information about the formation and the evolution of terrestrial planets.

The BepiColombo mission hinges on two orbiters of different objectives:

  • the planetary orbiter or ESA MPO is dedicated to the study of the surface and the composition of Mercury.
  • the magnetospheric orbiter or MMO of the JAXA will study the magnetic field and the magnetosphere of Mercury.

These two orbiters will be launched together from French Guiana in 2018. They will reach Mercury's environment six years later in 2024 and will be separated to carry out their respective missions with a nominal term of one year.

Objectives : Understanding the internal structure of the planet Mercury and contributing to the understanding of the forming and evolution of planets similar to Earth.


The MSL mission (Mars Science Laboratory) of the U.S. space agency (NASA), is a mobile robot to explore the Martian surface. This machine, three times heavier than its predecessors, is designed as a laboratory to analyze precisely the Martian rocks. Of the 10 instruments on board, the IRAP contributes greatly to the instrument ChemCam (elemental analysis of rocks up to 10m), and France is also involved in SAM (mineral and atmospheric analysis).

Onboard NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover, the ChemCam instrument will help us understand whether rocks and soils on Mars have been altered by water and contain chemicals necessary for life.

IRAP Responsible : Sylvestre Maurice


Mars Rover Curiosity in Artist's Concept



The Cluster constellation

The four CLUSTER satellites were launched in July and August 2000 by two Soyuz launchers for a two years mission. The mission was granted an extension of three extra years operation in early 2002, then four more years in 2005. The mission was forseen to be ended in 2009. On October 2 2009, ESA's Science Programme Committee approuved the extension of CLUSTER mission operations until December 31 2012. On November 19 2010, ESA's Science Programme Committee approuved the extension of CLUSTER mission operations until December 31 2014, extension subjected to a mid-term review in 2012.

The ESA CLUSTER mission studies the interactions between the solar wind and the terrestrial magnetosphere.

IRAP Responsible : I. Dandouras


Project in operation

  • Scientific leads: J.-A. Sauvaud and B. Lavraud
  • Technical leads: C. Aoustin, A. Fedorov
  • Other involved scientists: A. Opitz, B. Lavraud, P. Louarn, J. Dandouras, C. Jacquey, V. Génot, G. Fruit



JEM-EUSO Telescope

JEM-EUSO will locate for the first time sources of cosmic rays and will mark the historic opening of non-photonic astronomy, based upon the study of charged particles. The main scientific questions to which JEM-EUSO will have to answer are : what are the sources able to accelerate the very energetic RCUEs particles (beyond 1020 eV) ? What is the acceleration mechanism ? Is there a link between the RCUEs sources and other sources already known in the Universe ? Can we use the RCUEs as messengers to probe the cosmos ?

JEM-EUSO aims at observing giant air showers induced in the Earth's atmosphere by cosmic ultra-energetic rays (RCUE).

IRAP Responsible : Peter von Balmoos



Launched in november 2013 from the Kennedy Space Center, the MAVEN Mission (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) aims to study the Martian upper atmosphere and ionosphere, as well as their interactions with the solar wind.

MAVEN : Understanding Mars' climate history

IRAP Responsible : Christian Mazelle


The Nuclear Compton Telescope (NCT) is an R&D project funded by NASA, its goal is to develop a high-resolution Compton telescope for nuclear astrophysics. The PI institute of NCT is the Space Science Laboratory (University of California Berkeley). NCT is designed to study astrophysical sources of gamma-ray emission in the 200 keV - 10 MeV energy range, with high spectral resolution (E/∆E 500), moderate angular resolution (2 degrees), and sensitivity to gamma-ray polarization.

The last long duration balloon flight was planned in 2008-2009. The heart of NCT is an array of cross-strip germanium detectors with full 3D position localization of photon interactions (resolution < 2 mm3). These detectors were surrounded by an anticoincidence shield made of bismuth germanate (BGO) and an active collimator made of cesium iodine (CsI). The NCT’s team in IRAP was in charge of providing the CsI collimator and the BGO shield electronics.



PILOT is an embedded astrophysics experiment that will carry at an altitude of 40 km a stratospheric balloon of 800 000 m3. The scientific objective is to measure the polarized emission of interstellar dust grains. These measurements will help to map the direction and the intensity of the magnetic field of our Galaxy. They will also lead to understand the magnetic properties of the interstellar medium grains. These data will be very helpful in establishing methods for subtracting the contribution of the polarized emission of the foreground for future cosmological missions which will aim to map the polarization of the microwave background radiation.

PILOT (Polarized Instrument for Long wavelength Observation of the Tenuous interstellar medium) : Measuring the emission of dust grains in the interstellar medium

Research Group :  MICMAC

  • Scientific Responsible : J-Ph. Bernard
  • Technical Manager : Ch. Marty
    • Orther technical staff involved : G. Roudil, Th. Camus, W. Marty, B. Mot, G. Versepuech, C. Engel, F. Bousquet, O. Simonella, L. Bautista, S. Maestre



Artist impression of ESA's Rosetta spacecraft around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, in 3D. The image can be viewed using stereoscopic glasses with red–green or red–blue filters. Copyright ESA / C. Carreau

Since its launch in 2004, the Rosetta probe has crossed the paths of the asteroids Steins and Lutetia. However, its main objective is to study the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This meeting will take place in 2014 : as early as August, a complete mapping of the comet 67P will be realized. On November 11, the lander Philae will land on the surface of the comet and pierce several holes to study its internal composition. This mission will last only a few days. The orbiter will accompany the comet in its course towards the Sun. The onboard instruments will perform analysis of the composition of its coma and its hair.

Rendez-vous with comet 67P/Churyumov-GerasimenkoS

Scientific Responsible : C. Mazelle



Credit: ESA/NASA, Artist: M. Carroll

Jupiter is the archetype for the giant planets of the Solar System and for the numerous giant planets now known to orbit other stars. Moreover, Jupiter's diverse Galilean satellites - three of which are believed to harbour internal oceans - are central to understanding the habitability of icy worlds. Understanding the Jovian system and unravelling its history, from its origin to the possible emergence of habitable environments, will give us a better insight into how gas giant planets and their satellites form and evolve. In addition, new light should be shed on the potential for the emergence of life in Jupiter-like exoplanetary systems.

EJSM-Laplace will carry out an in-depth study of the Jovian system and its four largest satellites, with particular emphasis on Ganymede and Europa.

IRAP Responsible : N. André

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