The Ganymede Laser Altimeter GALA of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) will be used to measure Jupiter’s largest moon Ganymede. HENSOLDT supplies the transmitter-receiver unit for the GALA laser altimeter as well as the laser electronics unit that controls the laser transmitter. GALA is crucial for the exploration of the Jupiter system and the creation of a surface profile of Ganymede. Programme manager Dr Kai Weidlich explained: “With our laser altimeter, we are surveying the moon Ganymede in the Jupiter system in a similar way to what Google Earth does on Earth. Since the satellite repeatedly flies over predefined points during the three-and-a-half-year mission, it is also possible to determine changes in the elevation profile. Here we observe the tides of the land mass of ice. Through the altitude movements, we can see if there is liquid water under several hundred metres of ice cover – an indicator of possible life on this moon.”
HENSOLDT’s lasers for space applications benefit from insights and experience gained with its very successful laser rangefinders for military applications. The best practices and lessons learned with terrestrial lasers, paired with excellence in space instrumentation, enabled HENSOLDT’s engineers to enter the field of laser-assisted planetary observation. In the past, HENSOLDT participated in BepiColombo, the first ESA mission to Mercury, with its BELA laser altimeter. One of the main technical challenges in the Jupiter system is the immense ionising radiation exposure caused by the trapping of energetic charged particles in Jupiter’s strong magnetic field. The spacecraft must fly through this intense radiation belt and therefore have appropriate protection. The power supply for the laser transmitter-receiver unit is provided by solar panels. However, due to the large distance to the sun, their efficiency is very limited.
HENSOLDT Space Consulting from France has also contributed to JUICE. In close collaboration with the French research institute Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), it has contributed to the product assurance of three instruments starting from the early design phase: MAJIS (Moon And Jupiter Imaging Spectrometer), SWI (Submillimetre Wave Instrument) and the Search Coil Magnetometer Sub-system, as well as the MIME Electronic Board to the RPWI (Radio & Plasma Waves Investigation) instrument.
The JUICE mission will explore Ganymede, Europa and Callisto, three icy moons of Jupiter. The satellite is launched on an Ariane 5 launcher. The flight to Jupiter will take almost eight years. The space probe should then reach Ganymede at the end of 2034. JUICE will observe the gas planet Jupiter for at least three years and study its icy moons in detail.