ESA's first mission to Planet Mercury. BepiColombo
is a Mercury exploration project jointly planned by Japan and
the European Space Agency (ESA). BepiColombo is ESA's first
mission conducted in co-operation with Japan.
BepiColombo at Planet Mercury
will be launched on 15 August 2015 on an
Ariane 5 rocket
Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
The spacecraft will arrive at
Planet Mercury in January 2022 for a 1 year nominal mission
with a possible 1-year extension.
BepiColombo will use the gravity of the Earth,
Venus and Mercury in combination with solar-electric propulsion
(SEP) to journey to Mercury.
When approaching Mercury, the spacecraft will use the planet's gravity plus
conventional rocket engines to insert itself into a polar orbit.
The aim of
the BepiColombo mission is:
investigate Planet Mercury’s magnetic field,
magnetosphere and both its surface and interior.
To make a complete map of
Mercury at different wavelengths. This will allow to map the
planet's mineralogy and elemental composition and determine
whether the interior of the planet is molten or not.
To understand the origin and evolution of a planet close to the parent star
4. To examine Mercury as a planet: form, interior, structure, geology, composition and
5. To examine Mercury's vestigial atmosphere (exosphere): composition and dynamics.
6. To use the spacecraft’s proximity to the Sun to
test the predictions of General Relativity theory with improved accuracy.
The total estimated cost of the
mission is 650 million euros (in June 2013).
The BepiColombo mission
consist of two individual orbiters: the Mercury Planetary
Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).
1. Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO)
The main spacecraft is ESA's Mercury
Planetary Orbiter (MPO). It will map the planet and study the surface and
internal composition of Planet Mercury.
2. Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO)
Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) will observe the magnetic field and the
magnetosphere. Japan's JAXA is responsible for the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).
Launch Mass: 4100 kg
Mercury Planetary Orbiter in Mercury orbit: 1150 kg
Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter in Mercury orbit:
BepiColombo mission is named after
Colombo (1920-1984), a scientist, mathematician and engineer at the
University of Padua, Italy. He was the first to see that an unsuspected
resonance is responsible for Mercury's habit of rotating on its axis three times
for every two revolutions it makes around the Sun. He also suggested to NASA how
to use a gravity-assisted swing-by of Planet Venus to place the
Mariner 10 spacecraft in
a solar orbit that would allow it to fly by Mercury three times in 1974-5.
Mission operation centre will be located at the European Space Operations
Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany. The ground telemetry station for the MPO
and MMO spacecraft will be the Cebreros (Spain) 35m antenna (8 hours/day) and
the Usuda (Japan) 64m antenna (6-8 hours/day) respectively.
A European mission to Mercury was first proposed in May 1993. Although an
assessment showed it to be too costly for a medium-size mission, ESA made a
Mercury orbiter one of the three new Cornerstones missions when the Horizon 2000
science programme was extended in 1994.
Gaia competed with BepiColombo for the fifth Cornerstone mission. In October
2000, ESA approved a package of missions for 2008–2013 and both BepiColombo and
Gaia were approved.
In 2003 an original plan to include a lander
Following an increase in BepiColombo
mission’s mass during 2008, the launch vehicle
was changed from Soyuz-Fregat to Ariane 5.
Other Planet Mercury Spacecraft:
Mariner 10, Messenger.
Programme: To Ariane and Beyond
by Brian Harvey
* Most of ESA's previous interplanetary missions have been to
relatively cold parts of the Solar System. BepiColombo will be
the European Space Agency's first experience of sending a planetary probe close
to the Sun.
* The proximity of Mercury to the Sun makes it difficult to
observe and hard to reach by space flight.
* BepiColombo and
Solar Orbiter are ESA's first long-range science missions designated to use an
* Magnetosphere is the region of space around the planet that
is dominated by its magnetic field.
Looking for a Space
Gift? Try Space
air flights and more.
comments or suggestions, then click