BepiColombo launches for Mercury

ESA's Mercury Planetary Orbiter (foreground) and JAXA's Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (background)
Image Credit: Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Mercury: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

News from Oct 19, 2018

Tomorrow at 3:45 CEST, the BepiColombo mission is going to launch for Mercury aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The joint endeavor between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) seeks to better understand not only the planet itself, but also the formation of our Solar System. Mercury is both the smallest and the planet closest to our sun, making it extremely challenging to place a spacecraft into a stable orbit around it. The BepiColombo mission comprises two orbiters, ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO or ‘Bepi’) and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO or ‘Mio’), carried by the ESA-built Mercury Transfer Module (MTM). The ambitious seven-year journey to Mercury involves a number of flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury and, once Earth’s gravity is out of reach, requires continuous braking against the Sun’s gravitational pull. Although the scientific cameras are switched off during the journey, monitoring cameras fixed to the MTM will take snapshots during the flybys and confirm the successful deployments of solar arrays and antennas. To avoid overheating, the mission also demanded new technological innovation, such as high-temperature coating, a multi-layered insulation, and a novel spin-technique for Mio. Once in orbit, the scientific observations are scheduled to last one year with the possibilities of a one-year extension. One of the 11 instruments on board the MPO is the BepiColombo LaserAltimeter (BELA) developed and built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in cooperation with the University of Bern, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia and industry partners.

Watch here the BepiColombo launch live!