BepiColombo’s components separating at Mercury. Image Credit: Astrium

BepiColombo – Mission to Mercury

by JENNY WINDER on OCTOBER 11, 2012

BepiColombo, due to launch in 2015, will be only the third spacecraft to visit Mercury and the first to be sent by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Currently undergoing tests at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands. Here are the details and objectives of this joint mission to our innermost planet which hopes to give us the best understanding of Mercury to date.

As the innermost of the terrestrial planets Mercury has an important role in showing us how planets form, yet it is the least explored planet in the inner Solar System. NASA sent Mariner 10 in 1974–5 and MESSENGER flew passed the planet 3 times in 2008 and 2009, before going into orbit around it last year. Being in close proximity, the Sun’s enormous gravity makes placing a spacecraft into a stable orbit, a challenge.

Professor Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo (1920–1984) was the Italian mathematician and scientist who developed the gravity-assist maneuver and helped NASA to devise the trajectory of Mariner 10. The spacecraft that bears his name comprises three components: the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) and the two probes: Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) It will take 6 years to make the journey from Earth to Mercury using solar-electric propulsion and gravity assists from the Earth and Venus, before eventual gravity capture at Mercury.

Read more: BepiColombo – Mission to Mercury — Universe Today.

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