Posted 14 March 2018 in Blog, Science, Space.
Europe’s first mission to Mercury has the green light to begin its launch preparations. The BepiColombo spacecraft, along with ground equipment and mission experts, will move from the European Space Agency (ESA)’s centre in the Netherlands to Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, in April.

BepiColombo will allow scientists to develop a better understanding of the formation and evolution of Mercury and our solar system. The mission is a joint endeavour between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). It consists of two scientific orbiters: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter; and the Mercury Transfer Module, which will carry them to the innermost planet.

Last week the mission passed a major review and received the green light for travelling to its launch site in April, where the spacecraft will go through an intensive six months of preparations. Work includes dressing the orbiters in protective insulation to prepare for the harsh space environment and extreme temperatures they will experience operating close to the Sun, attaching and testing the solar wings and their deployment mechanisms, installing the sunshield, fuelling, and connecting the three spacecraft together.

The final weeks will see the spacecraft stack inside the Ariane 5 rocket fairing, and prepare the launch vehicle. ESA confirmed that the take-off window is open from 5 October until 29 November.

Artist impression of BepiColombo separating after launch Credit: ESA/ATG medialab.
Artist’s impression of the upper stage and payload launch adapter separating from the BepiColombo spacecraft stack about 30 minutes after launch. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab.

Once in orbit, the spacecraft will have a 7.2-year cruise. The Mercury Transfer Module will carry the two science orbiters to Mercury, using a combination of solar power, electric propulsion and nine gravity-assist flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury.

The arrival of the BepiColombo spacecraft to the innermost planet is planned for December 2025, with initial mission scheduled for one year. During this period, the two orbiters will make complementary measurements of Mercury and its environment from different orbits, from its deep interior to its interaction with the solar wind, to provide the best understanding of Mercury to date.

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