Giuseppe Colombo


Giuseppe Colombo (October 2, 1920 – February 20, 1984) was an Italian scientist, mathematician and engineer. He is better known by his nickname Bepi Colombo. He is known for his work on Mercury, inventing tethers for linking satellites together and is one of the initiators of ESA’s mission to Halley’s Comet. ESA’s BepiColombo Mercury mission is named in his honour.

Giuseppe Colombo Picture

Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo Biography

Giuseppe Colombo was born in Padua, Italy in 1920 where he attended primary and secondary schools. After graduating from the University of Pisa in Mathematics in 1944, he returned to Padua where he worked as Assistant and then Associate Professor of Theoretical Mechanics at the University of Padua.

In 1955 he became Full Professor of Applied Mechanics and in 1962 the Director of the Institute of Applied Mechanics at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Padua. He lectured on various subjects from mechanical vibrations and celestial mechanics to rockets and space vehicles.

Planet Mercury

In 1970, he was invited to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to participate in a conference on NASA’s Mariner 10 Venus/Mercury mission. Early in that year he had noted that the period of the spacecraft’s orbit, after it flew past Mercury, would be very close to twice the rotational period of the planet itself. He suggested that a second encounter with Mercury could be achieved.

An analytical study conducted by JPL confirmed Colombo’s suggestion. The study showed that by careful choice of the Mercury fly-by point, a gravitational-assist manoeuvre could be made that would return the spacecraft to Mercury six months later. Almost everything known until now about the Planet Mercury comes from these orbits of Mariner 10 in 1974-75 were inspired by Colombo’s calculations.

Tethered Satellites

Apart from his work on Mercury, Colombo invented the concept of tethered satellites. In 1974 he introduced the idea of using of a long tether to support a spacecraft from an orbiting platform.

Colombo and Mario Grossi (his colleagues) approached the Italian Space Agency and NASA with the idea, which was eventually developed into the Tethered Satellite System (TSS). The TSS was launched twice on the Space Shuttle: STS-46 in 1992 and STS-75 mission in 1996.

Path of Giotto probe approaching Halley

Giuseppe was one of the initiators of ESA’s Giotto mission to Comet Halley. He suggested the name Giotto, but he died in 1984. Giotto spacecraft was on 2 July 1985, a year after his death.

Other Info

He helped promote space research in the Italian Space Agency, industries and various Universities such as Padua, Pisa and Torino.

Mercury Mission

BepiColombo is European Space Agency’s (ESA) first mission to Mercury and was named after Giuseppe  Colombo.

Saturn’s Rings

Colombo made significant contributions to the study of Saturn’s rings, mostly using ground-based observations in the era before space exploration reached the outer solar system. Colombo Gap is named after Giuseppe ‘Bepi’ Colombo.

Asteroid 10387

Asteroid 10387 Bepicolombo is named after Giuseppe ‘Bepi’ Colombo. 10387 Bepicolombo (1996 UQ) is a main-belt asteroid discovered on 18 October 1996 by P. Sicoli and F. Manca at Sormano Astronomical Observatory in Italy.

Related Books and DVDs:

Books on PlanetsSpace Program and Telescopes.

Astronomy Dvd

Europe’s Space Programme: To Ariane and Beyond by Brian Harvey

Did you know?

 * Colombo Gap lies in the inner C Ring. Within the gap lies the bright but narrow Colombo Ringlet, centered at 77,883 kilometres from Saturn’s center, which is slightly elliptical rather than circular.

Giuseppe Colombo Links:

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