Current Projects

The Space Research and Planetology Division is involved in a number of hardware developments for missions led by major space agencies including ESA, NASA, Roscosmos and ISRO. You can find direct links to some of these projects in this area.


CHEOPS is the first S-class mission from ESA and was selected in October 2012 with a launch target for 2018.

CHEOPS stands for CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite. It is a small photometric observatory to be launched into low Earth orbit to measure transits of Exo-planets.

Experimental Planetary Science

The Venus Express mission of ESA launched on 9 November, 2005 and performed scientific operations from April 2006 until December 2014 in Venus orbit. The University of Bern participated in the Neutral Particle Detector (NPD) of the ASPERA-4 instrument investigating the solar wind interaction with the Venus atmosphere.

The Mars Express mission of ESA launched on 2 June 2003 and performs scientific operations in Mars Orbit since December 2003. The University of Bern participates in the Neutral Particle Detector (NPD) of the ASPERA-3 instrument investigating the solar wind interaction with the Martian atmosphere, including its erosion.

The European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Mars Express spacecraft in June 2003. The mission was intended to provide a flight opportunity for re-builds of experiments lost as a result of the Russian Mars "96 launch failure and reached Mars at Christmas 2003. The re-build allowed several instruments to be improved and upgraded. However, a completely novel element of the Mars Express payload was the Beagle 2 lander. Beagle 2 was designed to descend through the atmosphere of Mars to the surface using a combination of aerobraking, parachutes, and airbags. After coming to rest in the Isidis Planitia region of Mars, (260-270º W, 5-10º N) [Bridges et al., 2000, 2003], the lander was to deploy solar panels and begin scientific operations. The scientific payload comprised an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, a Mössbauer spectrometer, a stereo camera system, a stepped combustion mass spectrometer (GAP), a sampling device ("PLUTO"), a set of environmental sensors, and a microscope [Sims et al., 2000]. The Planetary Imaging Group was involved in the development and testing of the microscope system for Beagle 2.

The BepiColombo mission will be among the first missions to explore Mercury, one of the last unknown realms of the solar system. It must, therefore, provide fundamental knowledge about the planet and lay the ground for any further exploration e.g., by future lander missions. The importance of Mercury stems from its position as the innermost planet and from its unusual composition. It is widely held that understanding Mercury will provide a quantum leap in understanding the formation and evolution of the solar system.

A fundamental task of exploratory space missions is to characterize and measure the figure, topography, and surface morphology of the target planet. A state of the art tool for this task is a laser altimeter because it can provide absolute topographic height and position with respect to a Mercury centred co-ordinate system. The technology of laser altimetry is new in Europe. The BepiColombo Laser Altimeter (BELA) will be the first such instrument developed for a European space mission. BELA will form an integral part of a larger geodesy and geophysics package, incorporating radio science and stereo imaging.

CaSSIS is the main imaging system onboard the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. The Planetary Imaging Group is the lead investigation team for this instrument and has a web site specifically dedicated to CaSSIS.

We were the only European Co-Is on the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) – the high resolution imaging system on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) when it launched in 2005. The Principal Investigator is Prof. Alfred McEwen from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. We are interested in several research topics that HiRISE can address.

MRO was launched on August 12, 2005 from Cape Canaveral. The spacecraft completed orbit insertion in March 2006. This was followed by an aerobraking phase where MRO used the drag produced by the atmosphere of Mars to slow the spacecraft down. This brought MRO into its final, slightly elliptical orbit of 255 km x 320 km above the surface of Mars. The inclination of the orbit with respect to the Martian equator is about 87° (i.e. it is a roughly polar orbit). The orbit is Sun-synchronous so that MRO passes directly over the equator at the point on Mars where it is 15:05 local time. Our main research area is connected to volatile processes involving water and CO2.

The BepiColombo mission of ESA is a comprehensive mission to explore Mercury in great detail, including two spacecrafts: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) from ESA and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) from Jaxa. The SERENA instrument, located on the MPO spacecraft, will investigate the interaction of the solar wind with the planet, study the near-Mercury plasma environment, and measure the composition of Mercury's faint atmosphere.

More information coming soon.

Lunar Research

The Chandrayaan-1 is a mission by the Indian Space Agency (ISRO), launched on 22 October, 2008, and stayed in lunar oribt from October 2008 to August 2009. The University of Bern was part of the SARA instrument to investigate the interaction of the solar wind with the lunar surface,

More information coming soon.

More information coming soon.

Comet Research

The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission ended in September 2016 with a spectacular landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Over 2 years the ROSINA mass spectrometer suite, led by a team of the University of Bern, continuously monitored the composition of the volatiles surrounding the nucleus. Comets are thought to belong to the most pristine objects and thus give us an unprecedented view on the early Solar System and the material from which it formed.

OSIRIS is the main imaging system on Rosetta. We are involved in the geomorphological interpretation of the data and studying the gas and dust dynamics within a few kilometres of the surface. We also coordinate a Horizon 2020 project designed to combine several data sets to look at the surface properties and outgassing.

More information coming soon.

More information coming soon.

Interstellar Gas

The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission of NASA investigates the interaction of the solar wind with the surrounding interstellar medium by imaging via energetic neutral atoms, with two ENA cameras. IBEX launched in October 2008 and continues to operate nominally.

Sun and Solar Wind

More information coming soon.

Magnetospheric Research

More information coming soon.

More information coming soon.

More information coming soon.