BepiColombo is 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 will be launched on October 2018 on an Ariane 5 rocket from ESA’s 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:
1. To investigate Planet Mercury’s magnetic field, magnetosphere and both its surface and interior.
2. 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.
3. To understand the origin and evolution of a planet close to the parent star (our Sun).
4. To examine Mercury as a planet: form, interior, structure, geology, composition and craters.
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 will 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: 275 kg
BepiColombo mission is named after Giusseppe (Bepi) 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 was shelved.
Following an increase in BepiColombo mission’s mass during 2008, the launch vehicle was changed from Soyuz-Fregat to Ariane 5.
Original launch date was 15 August 2015.
Other Planet Mercury Spacecraft:
Mariner 10, Messenger.
Did you know?
* 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 ion engine.
* Magnetosphere is the region of space around the planet that is dominated by its magnetic field.
ESA Science & Technology: BepiColombo: The official site for this European Space Agency mission to Mercury. Includes mission summary, background science, and current status.
Mercury project: BepiColombo: The official site for the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) and Japan Space Exploration Agency (JAXA) portion of the BepiColumbo mission
L’Europe ira sur Mercure by ESA (Photo reference – 2 Oct 2011)
BepiColombo Overview: Picture source – Artist’s view of BepiColombo at Mercury (released 26/02/2007) by EADS Astrium.
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