Tuesday, 20 November, 2018

Europe, Japan ready spacecraft for 7-year journey to Mercury

Image via ESA Image via ESA
Sandra Phillips | 24 October, 2018, 12:02

In particular, dual observations are key to understanding solar-wind-driven magnetospheric processes, affording new science possibilities the ESA said.

According to the website of the ESA, BepiColombo is a joint project of the European space Agency and Japanese aerospace exploration Agency, worth 1.85 billion dollars.

"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 is necessary to use the heaviest rocket, since BepiColombo is actually two separate spacecrafts, the Mercury Magnetosphere Orbiter (MMO) and the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO). JAXA's Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) hosts a magnetometer, a spectral imager, and plasma physics instruments to study the origin, strength, and extent of the planet's magnetic field and exosphere.

It will take seven years to reach Mercury, the nearest planet to the sun.

To be successful, however, BepiColombo must weather some extreme conditions. "So much about it seems wrong for a planet that close to the Sun, so maybe it originated further out".

The Ariane 5 launch - designated Flight VA245 - was the 23rd major scientific mission performed by an Arianespace family vehicle to date, following deployments of such high-profile passengers as Rosetta, the Mars Express and Venus Express space probes, Gaia, Herschel, Planck and Aeolus. This map, combined with its other investigations, seeks to complement the data collected by previous visits to Mercury.

Mysterious MercuryArtist's rendering of BepiColombo near Mercury.

Scientists hope to unravel some of Mercury's mysteries, such as the reason for its over-large iron core, its spectacular volcanic vents, and why the planet's dark side emits X-rays. Eastern, marking the beginning of a 9-billion kilometer trip to the closest planet to the Sun.

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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.

Enlarge / It is no easy task to put a spacecraft into orbit around Mercury.

Scientists will be eager to explore previously discovered evidence of water ice on the planet. It also shows signs of past tectonics and volcanism and has a thin atmosphere. The Americans have already been there, briefly with the Mariner 10 probe in the 1970s, and with the Messenger orbiter earlier this decade.

This mission aims to determine some basic information about Mercury: how it formed, how it changed over the solar system's history, what the interior of Mercury looks like, and even if the planet is still volcanically or geologically active today.

Traveling in a controlled manner toward the Sun requires more energy than traveling away.

After launch, BepiColmbo must constantly brake, otherwise it will fly straight past the planet!

A complex series of fly-bys past the Earth, Venus, and Mercury will also help to reduce BepiColombo's velocity by 7km per second.

Mission controllers based in Darmstadt, Germany, would spend much of Saturday talking to the spacecraft, to confirm they were properly configured for the long cruise ahead.

"You could get to Mercury in a few months but you'd shoot straight past it", said Mr Byrne.

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