ESA's BepiColombo Mission To Explore Mysteries Of Mercury

9 July 2017, 8:41 am EDT By Athena Chan Tech Times
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The BepiColombo is the European Space Agency's first mission to explore Mercury. The stacked orbiters presented to the media will be separated and not stacked again until its launch in October of 2018.   ( Philippe Sebirot | ESA )

The European Space Agency's (ESA) collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to explore Mercury is just about ready to go. The BepiColombo mission will give us a deeper look at the under-explored planet.

BepiColombo's Orbiters

The BepiColombo is the ESA's first Mercury mission and is being developed in cooperation with JAXA. Its main mission is to conduct a comprehensive review of the planet closest to the sun.

On Thursday, the ESA presented BepiColombo's two orbiters in launch configuration to the Media: ESA's Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), and JAXA's Mercury Magnetosphere Orbiter (MMO). The orbiters will be stacked together for most of the duration of the 7.2 -year journey to Mercury, but they will separate once in Mercury and move into their own orbits to take separate measurements of the planet.

In order to ensure that the BepiColombo orbiters will be able to endure the harsh conditions of the planet, both underwent rigorous testing which included being tested inside an acoustic chamber as well as shaking the stack of orbiters in various frequencies in order to mimic the noise and powerful vibrations that are expected during the launch.

A last testing in a thermal-vacuum chamber will separately check the orbiters' capability to endure the extreme temperatures that will likely be experienced on the way to Mercury.

The media presentation was the last time the two will be stacked together until next year's launch.

BepiColombo in launch configuration at the ESA's testing center.
(Photo : BepiColombo in launch configuration at the ESA's testing center.

Mission Objectives

The mission's science objectives involve taking detailed measurements of the planet's composition, atmosphere, magnetosphere, geophysics, and history. Apart from simply taking basic measurements of the planet, the mission also aims to take a deeper look into the planet's inner workings and origin.

In its one-year mission, BepiColombo aims to be able to investigate the planet's polar deposits, the origin of its magnetic field, and hopefully explore the evolution and origin of a planet that is orbiting close to its parent star. A testing of Einstein's theory of general relativity will also be conducted.

The BepiColombo mission is one that may shape our understanding of the innermost planet in the solar system which has perhaps been under-explored due to its close proximity to the sun. Further, the mission could also provide insight into the search for life on other planets that are also in orbit close to their own parent stars.

BepiColombo was named after Professor Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo from the University of Padua in Italy. Professor Colombo was the engineer and mathematician who identified the unsuspected resonance that is the reason for why Mercury rotates on its axis three times with every two revolutions.

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