BepiColombo spacecraft starts seven-year journey to Mercury

24 October, 2018, 11:58 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • The spacecraft Bepi Colombo is seen at the European Space Agency's European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk Netherlands

Engineers worked throughout the day in ESOC's Main Control Room simulating BepiColombo's launch, maintaining data and voice contact with their counterparts at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, and at the ground stations that will support BepiColombo's departure.

But why does it have to endure a 7-year long journey until it starts the actual study?

It will take seven years to reach Mercury, the nearest planet to the sun.

Once on station, the spacecraft will have to endure blistering 660-degree temperatures at Mercury's average distance of 37 million miles from the sun.

Both the ion thrusters and a complex series of fly-bys past the Earth, Venus and Mercury will be used to slow the craft down.

BepiColombo is a joint project of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japanese Space Agency (JAXA).

Coming close on the heels of NASA's Parker Solar Probe that was launched in August, Bepi is aimed at finding more about Mercury that "doesn't really fit with our theories for how the Solar System formed", said Bepi scientist Professor Dave Rothery from the UK's Open University. However, it's only the first step of the probe's seven-year adventure to the sun-scorched planet.

"It is the first Mercury mission to send two science orbiters to make complementary measurements of the planet's dynamic environment at the same time".

Scientists hope to unravel some of Mercury's mysteries, such as the reason for its over-large iron core, its spectacular volcanic vents, and why the planet's dark side emits X-rays.

Mercury is also the only rocky planet orbiting the sun other than our own to have a magnetic field.

Not much is known about the solar system's smallest and least-explored planet, Mercury. Because of its size and closeness to the Sun, the planet orbit the sun very fast, which makes it very hard for any spacecraft that wants to visit it.

"This very complex mission is the result of a truly inspiring global cooperation among 83 companies from 16 European countries and Japan", said Nicolas Chamussy, Head of Space Systems. It will arrive at a high orbit around Mercury, where JAXA's Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter will assume its position.

Thales Alenia Space Italy and Airbus's German division also played a crucial role in the development of the aircraft, ESA said. Some scientific data will be collected, but the best pictures we are likely to get during flybys will be from the selfie-cams mounted on the MTM.Arriving at MercuryOn arrival at Mercury in late December 2025, the transfer module will be detached.

Here, the BepiColombo spacecraft stack is being hoisted up inside the Final Assembly Building, in preparation to be mounted on the Ariane 5 launch vehicle.

"After launch, and having escaped the "gravity well" of Earth, BepiColombo has to constantly brake against the gravitational pull of the sun".

"We want to characterize the surface, what material is on the surface, we'd like to measure temperatures, we'd like to see the interaction with the solar wind, which is special on Mercury because it is so close to the sun", he said. NASA's Mariner 10 made three brief fly-bys in the 1970s, and the USA space agency's Messenger orbiter circled the planet between March 2011 and April 2015, when it ran out of fuel and crashed onto Mercury's surface.



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