A joint European-Japanese mission to the tiniest planet, Mercury, blasted off French Guiana on its long journey tonight (Oct. 19, Oct. 20 GMT).
That mission, BepiColombo, wants to spend seven years cruising towards its target, where it wants to separate into two spacecraft and orbit Mercury for a year – or two, if the mission is extended. The lingering mysteries about the innermost planet, but also about the formation of our solar system and neighboring ones. The entire European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) report almost $ 2 billion.
"It's a really great day," ESA Director Jan Woerner said after the launch. Go, Bepi, go!
To Arianespace Ariane 5 ECA rocket the paired spacecraft launched at 9:45 p.m. EDT (01
Now, scientists have to wait seven years before the two spacecraft that make up. BepiColombo reach Mercury and separate to the beginning of the tiny, strange planet in December 2025 .
BepiColombo has a few tasks to tackle, even as it makes the long trek to Mercury. As it travels, one instrument on board wants to make the most accurate measurements to date of Mercury's and Earth's orbits around the sun.
The joined spacecraft also wants to make a series of flybys – one of Earth, two of Venus and six of Mercury. That's why the cruise will take so long, but it's necessary in order for BepiColombo to counter the huge gravitational tug of the sun and slip into a steady orbit around Mercury. So, along the way, scientists will use the flybys as opportunities to test many of the instruments on board – and potentially learn something new about our neighbors as the spacecraft travels.
Then finally, in December 2025, BepiColombo wants split into its two components, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter built by the European Space Agency and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter built by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
The two BepiColombo spacecraft wants to work in tandem.
The Spacecraft wants to work in tandem for a year to study every aspect of Mercury, from the depths of its core to the wispy, would-be atmosphere that surrounds the planet.