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IFSI's Operating Space Missions



- Mission Cassini (Launch 1997; landing on Titan 14 january 2005) - ESA/NASA/ASI


Cassini is an international collaboration among NASA, ESA and ASI. It is composed of an interplanetary spacecraft devoted to the study of the Saturn system with particular attention to its largest moon, Titan. Up to now, the Cassini mission has been very succesfull and an extention has been recently approved.

IFSI is present in the Science team of Cassini, after having contributed to the payload development with the visible channel of VIMS (Visual and Infrared Mapping spectrometer). 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. Results have been published on the  “Nature” and “Science” and on the most important journals of Planetary Science, such as Icarus and PSS (Planetary and Space Science).  

IFSI VIMS website
JPL Cassini page
ESA Cassini page 

- Missions Cluster and Double Star (Cluster Launch: 2000; Double Star Launch: 2003) - ESA


Mission Cluster is made of 4 spacecrafts that are currently investigating the Earth's magnetic environment and its interaction with the solar wind in three dimensions.
Double Star follows in the footsteps of Cluster by studying the effects of the Sun on the Earth's environment. Conducting joint studies with Cluster and Double Star increases the overall scientific return from both missions.

ESA cluster webpage
ESA double star webpage

-Spitzer mission (Launch: 2003) - NASA


The Spitzer Space Telescope (formerly SIRTF, the Space Infrared Telescope Facility) was launched into space in 2003 and is one of NASA's Great Observatories Program. Consisting of a 0.85-meter telescope and three cryogenically-cooled science instruments, Spitzer is the largest infrared telescope ever launched into space. During its mission, Spitzer will obtain images and spectra by detecting the infrared energy, or heat, radiated by objects in space.  

The group “Planetary and Stellar Formation” will be engaged in the analysis of the data of photometer MIPS of Spitzer (program MIPSGAL, that it observes the galactic plan) and of the phantoms of local active galaxies of the archives of spectrometer IRS of Spitzer.

NASA Spitzer page 
Spitzer website

- Mission Mars Express (Launch: 2 June 2003 ) - ESA


Mars Express is the first planetary mission attempted by ESA. It consists of two parts: the Mars Express Orbiter and Beagle 2, a lander designed to perform exobiology and geochemistry research. Although the lander failed to land safely on the Martian surface, 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. Mars Express has been extended until (at least) May 2009.

IFSI has contributed to this Mission with the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS). This instrument has made the essential discovery of the first detection of Methane on the Martian atmosphere.
IFSI is also involved in the Radar Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS).

ESA's Mars express webpage
ESA Science and technology webpage on Mars Express
ESA's page on MARSIS
ESA's page on PFS

- Mission Rosetta (Launch: 2004) - ESA


Rosetta spacecraft will be the first to undertake the long-term exploration of a comet at close distance. It comprises a large orbiter, which is designed to operate for a decade at large distances from the Sun, and a small lander. The next steps in Rosetta will be the study of the asteroid Steinz in 2008

To the Rosetta mission IFSI contributed developing the VIRTIS experiment. Data from VIRTIS are under elaboration, since Rosetta recently flew–by the Earth and Mars.

IFSI's VIRTIS website
ESA's Rosetta webpage
ESA Science and technology webpage on Rosetta

-  Mission Venus Express (Launch: 2005) - ESA


Venus Express is intended to use the knowledge acquired and the instrumentations already tested for Mars Express and Rosetta for a new mission to Venus. With a very short-time preparation, Venus Express has been launched in November 2005. The primary scientific goal is the study of the planet’s atmosphere.

IFSI was deeply involved in the building of the image spectrometer VIRTIS VEX (already developed for the mission Rosetta) for the spectral range 0.25-5 micron, 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 instead, due to pointing problems, is temporarily not working.
Moreover, IFSI also contributed to the technological realization of VEX/ASPERA-4 .

ESA's Venus Expreess webpage
ESA's science and technology webpage about Venus Express

- Mission Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) (Launch 2005) - NASA


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. In November 2006, after five months of aerobraking, it entered its final science orbit and began its primary science phase.

IFSI contributes 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.

NASA's MRO page
SHARAD website

-Mission Dawn (Launch 27 September 2007; arrival at Vesta August 2011) - NASA


Dawn was launched from Cape Canaveral the 26 September 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 IFSI.

IFSI VIR website
JPL Dawn page
NASA Dawn pages

- Herschel Observatory  (Launch: 14 May 2009)- ESA


Herschel is Europe’s far infrared space observatory that was launched on May 2009 and is actually being operated by ESA. 

IFSI 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. IFSI 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.


IFSI Herschel webpage
ESA's Herschel webpage

IFSI's Future Space Missions

- Mission Phobos-Soil (Launch 2011) - IKI

Phobos-Soil is the Russian mission to the Martian satellite Phobos first scheduled for launch in 2009 and postponed to 2011. Its main goal is to return on the Earth samples from Phobos surface.

At the beginning of 2007 an agreement between IFSI and IKI (Russian Institute for Space Research) has been sign to cooperate in the developing of some instruments to be included in the payload. IFSI is developing an Infra-Red interferometer to study the atmosphere and surface of both Mars and Phobos (AOST), and a thermal infra-Red multispectral camera (TIMM) to study the thermal- physical properties of the Phobos regolith.

IKI webpage


- Mission Juno (Launch August 2011; arrival at Jupiter 2016) - NASA



Juno 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 also in view of the understanding the internal structure of extrasolar planets.

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

- Mission Bepi Colombo (Launch: 2013) - ESA


BepiColombo will set off in 2013 on a journey to Mercury lasting approximately 6 years. On its arirval it will endure temperatures as high as 350 °C and gather data during its 1 year nominal mission from September 2019 until September 2020, with a possible 1-year extension to September 2021.

For IFSI, Bepi Colombo will be the most important spatial activity of the next decades. Among IFSI staff are the  PIs of  the experiments ISA (accelerometer) and Serena (Neutral and ionized particle analyzer) and the  CoIs of MIX (X-ray spectrometer ), SIXS (Solar monitor  experiments), MEA (electron analyser)  and Simbio-Sys (Optical high resolution and stereo imaging, Near-IR (<2.0μm) imaging spectroscopy for global mineralogical mapping).

IFSI Serena website

ESA's BepiColombo webpage

ESA Science and technology webpage on Bepi Colombo

- Aurora Program - Exomars-Pasteur (Launch: 2013) - ESA


“Aurora” is ESA's Exploration Programme born in 2001, for the robotic and human exploration of the solar system, where Mars, the Moon and the asteroids as the first, most likely targets.  A second objective of Aurora is to search for life beyond the Earth. Future missions under the programme will carry sophisticated exobiology payloads to investigate the possibility of life forms existing on other worlds within the solar system.  Aurora is one of the optional programs of the ESA to which Italy  participates in large measure.
The first step in the exploration will be the mission “Exomars-Pasteur” a mission including a Mars orbiter with a descent module and a rover that is the redesign of mission Pasteur.

IFSI participates to this mission with 2 instruments among the 9 on board of the lander. The 2 instruments with IFSI PIs are the spectrometer that is present inside of the drill, called Ma_Miss, and interferometer IR named MIMA. IFSI investigators participate moreover as CoI in other experiments.

ESA Aurora webpage

- Mission Solar Orbiter (Launch: 2015) - ESA


Solar Orbiter is an ESA-project thet represents a discovery mission for the international solar community. Solar Orbiter will explore for the first time the innermost regions of our solar system studying the Sun from close-up.

IFSI is part of an International consortium established in 2007 and aiming to respond to the ESA-AO for Solar Orbiter, proposing a plasma suite,
named SWA (Solar Wind Analyser), to perform in-situ plasma measurements. This  plasma suite is made of 4 instruments: 2 electron analysers , 1 proton and alpha analyser and 1 heavy ion analyser.
IFSI also proposed an instrument for the revelation of neutral solar wind (SCENARIO) with an international team and an IFSI PIship.

ESA webpage on Solar orbiter

- Mission LISA (Launch: 2018) - ESA/NASA


The Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) is a joint ESA-NASA mission to design, build and operate a space-based gravitational-wave detector. Three spacecraft positioned in a quasi equilateral configuration five million kilometres away from each other, trailing the Earth by 20° in a heliocentric orbit inclined by 60° with respect to the ecliptic, will detect gravitational waves from astrophysical sources throughout the Universe by measuring minute changes in the separation distances of free-floating masses within each spacecraft by means of laser interferometry. Micropropulsion will be used to countereffect external forces and to keep each spacecraft centred on its proof masses.

IFSI group of gravitational physics foresees the participation in LISA with the objective to contribute to the setting up a laboratory with low vibrational and thermal noises in the INFN GranSasso underground laboratories, and the participation to the GReAT experiment, developing the accelerometer.

NASA webpage on LISA
ESA webpage on LISA