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article imageBepiColombo Mercury Mission has successful liftoff

By Karen Graham     Oct 19, 2018 in Science
BepiColombo is a mission to Mercury conducted jointly by the European and Japanese space agencies, The successful launch took place from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, at 01:45 GMT (03:45 CEST) on October 20 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.
With the BepiColumbo Mission, man will be returning to the solar system's hottest planet, Mercury. Today's mission marks the third time in human history that we have sent a spacecraft to Mercury. The previous two missions, Mariner 10, in 1974 and MESSENGER in 2011, were led by NASA.
The mission to the solar system's smallest planet is vitally important to our understanding of how planets form close to stars. (Remember, the sun is our star). And we can also add to our understanding of the universe, too.
And we have liftoff! From live view of liftoff of Ariane 5 rocket on October 20  2018.
And we have liftoff! From live view of liftoff of Ariane 5 rocket on October 20, 2018.
The mission will take about seven years to get to Mercury, and along the way, it will get a number of gravity-assists from other planets as it passes by them. It will fly by Earth and Venus in 2020, Venus in 2021 and Mercury itself between 2021 and 2025. The flybys will help in slowing the spacecraft down enough to be captured by Mercury's gravity sometime in December 2025
The mission is named for Italian mathematician and engineer, Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo who is known for explaining that Mercury rotates on its own axis three times per orbit around the Sun as well as other accomplishments. The ESA also awards a 'Colombo fellowship' each year to a European scientist working in the field of astronautics. In addition, asteroid number 10387 was named in his honour.
The mission includes a carrier spacecraft called the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM). The MTM supplies electrical power during the interplanetary cruise. The MTM is carrying two orbiters. The ESA's spacecraft is the Mercury Planet Orbiter (MPO) and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) spacecraft is the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).
One other thing to know about the two orbiters - The JAXA orbiter, MMO, will remain dormant during the long interplanetary cruise, except for the occasional startup to make sure the MMO is working properly. The ESA's MPO will communicate with Earth and also command the Japanese spacecraft and the MTM until the three components are separated.
Just before Mercury orbit is achieved, the MTM will separate from the two orbiters. Then they will be put into separate orbits around Mercury. Japan's MMO will have an orbit of 9.3 hours, and Europe's MPO an orbit of about 2.3 hours. Both orbiters will be doing scientific investigations during their time in orbit.
The mission is expected to last one Earth year or four Mercury years. Another interesting aspect of this mission is the technologies that were developed to study the solar system's hottest planet. And because Mercury is so close to the sun, there is a serious amount of radiation the orbiters will have to contend with, too.
According to Tech Crunch, "The MPO will use a sun shield to keep the worst of the heat off, using a big radiator for the rest, and the MIO will spin as it travels along, doing a complete revolution every 4 seconds so that no one side is exposed to the sun for too long. Both craft also have highly heat-resistant materials and electronics, many of which are flying for the first time."
More about BepiColumbo, Mercury mission, Esa, JAXA, Ariane 5 rocket
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