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October 20, 2018 - The Vegan Authority

BepiColombo blasts off to investigate Mercury

BepiColombo blasts off to investigate Mercury
Credit: ESAFile Photo / © Photabulous!

The third mission to the planet nearest the Sun will reach orbit in 2025 after circling and observing Venus twice, and traveling 9 billion kilometers in the 7 year journey.

BepiColombo is a joint mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) at a cost of 1.6bn euros.

The ESA-JAXA BepiColombo escaped Earth's atmosphere, lunging 12,510km per hour, on an Ariane 5 heavy lift launch vehicle, the ESA's most powerful rocket system, from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou at 01:45:28 GMT on 20 October on a mission to study the least explored planet in our solar system, Mercury.

Traveling a distance of 9 billion kilometers from Earth, BepiColombo will perform a comprehensive study of Mercury, including its magnetic field, magnetosphere, interior structure and surface by utilizing two orbiting spacecrafts, the MPO and MMO.

The BepiColombo involves three components, which will separate into independent spacecraft upon arrival at Mercury.

  • Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) for propulsion, built by ESA
  • Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) built by ESA
  • Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) or Mio built by JAXA

The Mercury Surface Element (MSE) was cancelled in 2003 due to budgetary constraints. MSE was meant to be a small, 44kg lander designed to operate for about one week on the surface of Mercury.

The ESA-built Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) will carry the orbiters to Mercury using a combination of solar electric propulsion (ion propulsion) and gravity assist flybys. There will be one flyby of Earth, two at Venus midway between Earth and Mercury, and six at Mercury to slow the spacecraft before entering orbit on 5 December 2025.

Upon orbit the MMT will be jettisoned and the paired MMO (aka Mio) and MPO satellites will separate and begin their mission to observe Mercury in collaboration for one year, possibly two.

BepiColombo will be the third mission to visit the planet Mercury. NASA's Mariner 10, flew past Mercury three times in 1974-5 and returned the first close-up images of the planet. In 2011-2015 NASA's orbiting Messenger spacecraft discovered water ice at the planet's north pole during its geological observations.

The primary objectives of BepiColombo are to:

  • Understand the origin and evolution of a planet positioned uniquely close to its parent star.
  • Investigate the nature of Mercury's strange magnetic field, which was deemed to be nonexistent prior to a Mariner 10 flyby. It was thought Mercury could not generate a magnetic field because of its relatively small diameter and lack of atmosphere. NASA's Messenger later encountered magnetic "tornadoes" and other magnetosphere oddities.
  • Verify Einstein's theory of general relativity by measuring the parameters gamma and beta of the parameterized post-Newtonian formalism with high accuracy
  • Study Mercury's form, interior, structure, geology, composition and craters

Key Dates:

  • Oct. 20, 2018 | 01:45:28 UT -  Launch
  • April 13, 2020: Earth Flyby
  • Oct. 16, 2020: Venus Flyby
  • Aug. 11, 2020: Venus Flyby
  • Oct. 2, 2021: Mercury Flyby
  • June 23, 2022: Mercury Flyby
  • June 20, 2023: Mercury Flyby
  • Sept. 5, 2024: Mercury Flyby
  • Dec. 2, 2024: Mercury Flyby
  • Jan. 9, 2025: Mercury Flyby
  • Dec. 5, 2025: Mercury Orbit Insertion 

BepiColombo is named after Giuseppe "Bepi" Colombo (1920–1984), a scientist, mathematician and engineer at the University of Padua, Italy, who first implemented the interplanetary gravity-assist maneuver during the 1974 Mariner 10 mission, a technique now commonly used by planetary probes.


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