MIXS: studying Mercury in detail

BepiColombo carries two X-ray spectrometers: MIXS (Mercury Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer) and SIXS (Solar Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer). No-one has sent an imaging X-ray telescope to any planetary body before so this is ground-breaking science.

MIXS will analyse the surface of Mercury by collecting fluorescent X-rays, emitted by the surface rocks after stimulation by by high energy solar X-rays. SIXS will measure those solar X-rays to provide the base level data for the MIXS results. Analysis of this data will reveal the chemical composition of the rocks on the planet’s surface.

Designed and built at the University of Leicester, MIXS uses lightweight materials developed for aircraft and racing cars including carbon fibre composites, titanium and aluminium alloys. The instrument’s two cameras use micro-channel plate optics: glass plates with thousands of microscopic holes. These are far lighter than the plates in traditional X-ray telescopes, keeping the overall weight of MIXS to just over 10kg.

MIXS data file

  • Dimensions – 1m x 0.5m x 0.4m
  • Mass – 10.8kg
  • Power – 24W
  • Data storage – 20GB

MIXS has been jointly developed by the University of Leicester, the Open University, the University of Helsinki and partners in the UK, Finland, France, Germany and Spain. Funding was provided by the UK Space Agency, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the University of Leicester and ESA.

Name check

In the UK MIXS is just a set of initials, but for the project’s Finnish partners it’s a very clever name. ‘Mixs’ is the Finnish word for ‘why?’. And ‘sixs’ is the Finnish word for ‘That’s why’.