• BepiColombo mission artwork. Credit ESA
  • BepiColombo mission patch. Credit ESA

ESA/JAXA BepiColombo Probes Ready To Fly in 2018 to Destination Planet Mercury

Rob v. Mackelenbergh Space UpClose 18 Dec 2018

ESA-ESTEC NOORDWIJK, NETHERLANDS – In July 2017 I had the change to visit the BepiColombo spacecraft in the cleanroom at ESA-ESTEC Noordwijk in the Netherlands of the European Space Agency (ESA). BepiColombo is Europe's first mission to explore and orbit the planet Mercury.

This was the last opportunity for the media to visit BepiColombo in the cleanroom beforeit left the Netherlands ahead of its planned launch on October 5, 2018 to its destination -the planet Mercury.

Check out our Space UpClose photo gallery of the spacecraft in the ESA cleanroom.

BepiColombo will launch from French-Guyana; Europe’s Souith American launch base.

The mission is a joint collaboration between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), executed under ESA leadership.

The spacecraft consists of two scientific satellites: ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter(MPO) and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).

The two satellites are connected during the flight to Mercury. The will seperate after they arrive and achieve orbit at Mercury on 5 December 2025.

The MMO will stay at polar orbit 590 km by 11640 km and MPO will stay in a lower orbit 490 km by 1500 km.

The spacecraft will investigate the interior, surface, exosphere and magnetosphere of Mercury.

MMO is equipped with a heat shield to protect the device from overheating and intense solar radiation.

BepiColombo does not fly directly to Mercury. In order to reach the planet, it needs help from the gravity of the Earth, Venus and Mercury and will conduct a series of gravity assist flyby’s during the interplanetary journey.

The probes will be launched On October 5, 2018 on an Ariane 5 rocket and carry out nine gravity assists before achieving Mercury orbit.

Eighteen months later, the attached probes return to the Earth for a gravity assist flyby. Itflies past Earth first and then flies twice past Venus and six times past Mercury along theway to its final destination.

It will finally arrive at Mercury on 5 December 2025 and remains in orbit. BepiColombo will have been traveling through space for a total of seven years and two months.

The nominal mission ends on 1 May 2027. However, it could be extended by another Earth year or four Mercury years.

The probe is named after the Italian mathematician and engineer at the University of Padua, Giuseppe Colombo (1920-1984) whose nickname was Bepi. He did research on Mercury and calculated, among other things, how a spacecraft with multiple fly-bys can be brought into a resonant orbit around this planet.

Mercury has had an earthly visit only twice before.

NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft mapped 45% of the planet's surface during 3 flyby visits in 1974 and 1975.

Between March 2011 and May 2015, Mercury had company of NASA’s highly successfulMESSENGER spacecraft. This probe found 100 to 1,000 billion tons of water ice in shady craters. On April 30, 2015, NASA ended this mission by crashing the spacecraft on the planet after several mission extensions and the end of the fuel supply.

ArtBepiColombo mission artwork. Credit ESAPatchBepiColombo mission patch. Credit ESAIMG 4462 to 5133 : 7 imagesUpClose photos of the BepiColombo spacecraft in the cleanroom at ESA-ESTEC Noordwijk in the Netherlands of the European Space Agency (ESA) in July 2017. Credit:Rob v. Mackelenbergh
UpClose photos of the BepiColombo spacecraft in the cleanroom at ESA-ESTEC Noordwijk in the Netherlands of the European Space Agency (ESA) in July 2017. Credit:Rob v. Mackelenbergh