The BepiColombo spacecraft is on a mission to Mercury

The BepiColombo spacecraft is on a mission to Mercury

An Ariane 5 rocket rises from its launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana, sending the BepiColombo probe on the first leg of its journey to Mercury.

It took off from the Kourou Spaceport in French Guiana on Saturday morning.

The New Norcia tracking station, about 140km north of Perth, will monitor the spacecraft over its first three days and throughout its seven year journey to Mercury.

Once on station, the spacecraft will have to endure blistering 660-degree temperatures at Mercury's average distance of 37 million miles from the sun. ESA At that time it will make a "gravity-assist" flyby-using the Earth's gravity to swing itself inwards towards Venus.

BepiColombo is the European Space Agency's first mission to Mercury, and perhaps a sequel to the very successful MESSENGER mission to the planet that ended in 2015. Researchers are also hoping to learn more about the formation of the solar system from the data gathered by the BepiColombo mission.

BepiColombo, named after renowned Italian scientist Giuseppe "Bepi" Colombo, is taking a convoluted route to Mercury, flying past the Earth once, Venus twice and Mercury six times before releasing its orbiters to study the latter planet in more detail.

A powerful European Ariane 5 rocket was primed for blastoff Friday evening to send a pair of satellites on a seven-year voyage to Mercury. The space probe will then swing into orbit around Mercury before each orbiter enters its own orbit and begins the actual scientific exploration of the planet. ESA's Mercury Planetary Orbiter has instruments created to study the planet's interior, composition and magnetic field.

A combination of spacecraft will be launched together, with the Mercury Composite Spacecraft (MCS) consisting of two orbiters: MMO, MPO; as well as two additional elements: MTM, the Magnetospheric Orbiter Sunshield and Interface Structure (MOSIF). Though current plans call for a single year of research, the spacecraft are created to operate in a research mode for two years, he said.

"Launching BepiColombo is a huge milestone for ESA and JAXA, and there will be many great successes to come", said Jan Worner, ESA Director General.

It's not exactly a quick trip to the closest planet to the sun. BepiColombo is set to approach Mercury in December 2025, the mission will last until May 2027.

Manufacturers for BepiColomobo had to build unique technologies, such as British company QinetiQ's new, highly efficient electric propulsion system to slow the spacecraft, and German manufacturer Azur Space's solar cells capable of generating power while enduring higher than normal temperatures.

It's estimated the costs borne by the European Space Agency and the Japanese space agency amount to about €1.65bn.

But there will also be the sun's enormous gravity to deal with, and ion thrusters will be used to constantly push back against the pull of our star. These colours are not what Mercury would look like to the human eye, but the colours enhance the chemical and physical differences between the rocks that make up Mercury's surface.

NASA's Messenger spacecraft, launched in 2004, reached orbit around Mercury in 2011 and spent four years studying the planet's surface and space environment with a suite of sophisticated instruments.



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