Seven years in space, temperatures ranging from minus 40 to plus 300 degrees – Europe's first mission to Mercury will certainly be no walk in the park. Therefore, all parts traveling in 2014 must meet special requirements. This applies in particular to the altimeter that will map the surface of the planet. Its components include the baffles, aluminum parts that will protect the laser and telescope from the rays of the nearby sun. In a multi-step process using an ultra-precision lathe, LT Ultra-Precision Technology GmbH in Herdwangen-Schönach, Germany, manufactures the components of the baffles which are just several tenths of a millimeter thick.
The company specializes in ultra-precision machines: machine tools featuring accuracy down to the nanometer and sub-micrometer range. However, this alone is not enough: "High precision is not possible today without the corresponding measuring equipment," explains Richard Widemann, President of LT Ultra.
Parts such as baffles present the measuring technology at LT Ultra with certain challenges: the thin-walled components have an extremely sensitive optical surface that is easily scratched and must be measured with accuracy of a few hundred nanometers.