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Mission to Mercury launches – Sky & Telescope



The BepiColumbo spacecraft, a joint European-Japanese mission to Mercury, launched from Earth and began its seven-year hike to the innermost planet.

  Image of BepiColumbo launch

BepiColombo launches on an Ariane 5 rocket, still seen in this video.
ESA / CNES / Arianespace

We go back to Mercury! , , .perhaps.

The BepiColombo spacecraft launched at 9:45:28 on 1

9 October. EDT on an Ariane 5 rocket from an equatorial launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, beginning of a seven-year journey to Mercury. The journey began perfectly, on towering pillars of flame that lit up the early morning sky and remained visible until the side burners burned out 2 minutes later and the steady light of the main rocket stage became visible as a greenish point in the sky [19659006] BepiColombo's journey turns them into Earth Returning twice past Venus, she is accepted by Mercury six times before eventually entering orbit on December 5, 2025. The mission is a joint effort of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

Questions that need to be answered

  Mercury's Ambassador

Mercury, as announced on January 14, 2008 by the spacecraft Messenger was seen, about 27,000 km from the planet.
NASA / APL / Carnegie Science Facility

It is difficult to get to Mercury – so difficult that fewer spaceships have visited Mercury than Saturn. NASA has sent two spaceships: Mariner 10, which completed three flybys (in the same hemisphere) in 1974 and 1975, and Messenger, who conducted his orbital mission from 2011 to 2015.

Messenger was one of NASA's inexpensive Discovery missions. It has achieved a great deal with its low payload and produced a global photo map and more detailed maps of the topography and composition in the northern hemisphere. (The spaceship's elliptical orbit took it too far from the southern hemisphere for detailed mapping.) Messenger made discoveries about Mercury's magnetic field, and the thin cloud of atoms flying around the planet in space confirmed the presence of ice on the planet Poland and identified places with relatively new geological activity. But it left us with more new questions than old answers – as any good surveying mission should do.

How can the earthly planet with the largest iron core have so little iron in its crust? Why is its core so big? How can its crust contain so much sulfur when it is closest to the sun? Why does his magnetic field shift north of the center of the planet? Why do some of Mercury's craters have dark rays and others bright? What process formed the bizarre Swiss cheese features called "cavities"?

Two spacecraft in a

  image of the BepiColumbo transporter

BepiColombo before transfer to final assembly. The JAXA magnetosphere orbiter is visible at the top of the stack, ESA's Mercury Planetary Orbiter is in the middle and the ESA mercury transfer module is at the bottom.
ESA / CNES / Arianespace / S. Martin 19659005] BepiColombo will bring flagship science to Mercury to answer old and new questions. It includes two scientific spacecraft. One, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), was built by ESA and will operate on a near-circular orbit near the planet. The other, Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), was built by JAXA and will fly far from the planet in a much more elliptical orbit. The two will always be in the same orbit, which makes it easy to simultaneously observe the behavior of the magnetic field and the particles at various points near Mercury.

BepiColombo's science pack recapitulates Messenger, but with a sharper and wider view and the advantage of two spacecraft. Both probes carry magnetometers to study how Mercury's internally generated magnetic field responds to contractions from the active sun. Both carry instruments to study the exosphere of the planet – the neutral atoms and ions that are knocked off the surface of Mercury by incident radiation. MMO also has a dust counter, something Messenger did not have.

MPO has cameras and spectrometers to take photos and compositional measurements of the surface. From its nearly circular orbit, MPO will come much closer to the Mercury surface and get much sharper images than Messenger, which places its observations in the context of the messenger map. MPO will attempt to understand the composition of the Mercury crust and the nature of its volcanic activity, and will seek clues as to the timing of Mercury shrinkage along near-surface disturbances. Messenger pointed to small-scale mistakes that could shrink today; MPO will try to determine if the innermost planet is still active. Scientists are particularly interested in seeing the South Pole of Mercury in detail for the first time to see if there are ice reservoirs and organically rich materials, as the North Pole does.

A long way ahead

  Graphic of the BepiColumbo mission profile

This graphic was created for the member magazine of the Planetary Society, The Planetary Report and reproduced here by courtesy.

It is not easy to get to Mercury. A spacecraft must deliver a large amount of angular momentum to approach the sun and orbit around the small planet. BepiColombo will be traveling with a third spacecraft built by ESA, the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM). MTM will be using solar-electric propulsion, its giant solar panels powering ion engines that will fire uninterruptedly for most of the journey. Just before arriving at Mercury, BepiColombo will drop the MTM, avoiding the need to slow down with all of this additional mass into Mercury's orbit.

BepiColombo still has a long way to go, but it is the most dangerous part of his mission – the start. Mercury Orbit insertion in December 2025 should be a piece of cake by comparison. By the time the spacecraft completes its sixth Mercury flyby in January of this year, it will travel slowly enough to be captured naturally by Mercuri's gravitation, the seventh time the planet and spaceship meet.

Until then, enjoy the replay of the launch (which starts 38 minutes in the clip)!

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