BepiColumbo readied to start journey to Mercury next year
NOORDWIJK, Netherlands — On Thursday, July 6, the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) put the BepiColumbo spacecraft on display. ESTEC, the largest European Space Agency (ESA) site in Europe as well as the test center for all major ESA satellites, played host to an event signifying that the spacecraft is just 15 months away from launch.
The BepiColombo mission is a partnership between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The media event started at 11:00 a.m. local time and lasted for about two hours with presentations of various officials from ESA, JAXA Airbus, and Thales Alenia. Among them were the following: Alvaro Gimenez, Director of Science, ESA; Hitoshi Kuninaka, Vice Director General, ISAS; Mathilde Royer, Head of Earth Observation, Navigation and Science, Airbus DS; Ulrich Reininghaus, ESA BepiColombo Project Manager; Markus Schelkle, BepiColombo Project Manager, Airbus DS; Mauro Patroncini, BepiColombo Project Manager, Thales Alenia Space; Hajime Hayakawa, JAXA BepiColombo Project Manager; and Johannes Benkhoff, ESA BepiColombo Project Scientist.
The presenters talked about what the BepiColombo spacecraft will do once it reached the planet Mercury. These are, among other things, to examine the internal structure and magnetic field of Mercury, and also how it interacts with the Sun and solar wind. It will also investigate the various surface features and chemistry, such as ice that is present in permanently shadowed craters at the poles. The mission goal is to gain a better understanding and knowledge of the “planet of mysteries”; it will provide clues to a better understanding of the formation history of the Solar System and its planets as well as a complete and systematic observation of Mercury’s surface and magnetosphere.
After the presentations, the media went over to one of the clean rooms of ESTEC to have a close up look at the BepiColombo spacecraft, the final chance to see it before shipment to the Kourou Space Centre in French Guiana in March of next year. The launch campaign is scheduled to start in April of 2018. Arianespace’s Ariane 5 ECA launch vehicle is scheduled to launch the BepiColombo spacecraft on October 5, 2018. The spacecraft will have an 8-week long planetary window in which it can launch to get it on the right track to the planet Mercury.
The Bepi-Colombo spacecraft is composed of three interconnected modules for the launch and its flight to Mercury. The MTM – Mercury Transfer Module – will provide the thrust needed to get to Mercury. The MPO – Mercury Planetary Orbiter – is the European science and observation satellite that will fly in orbit around Mercury; the MMO – Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter – is developed by the Japanese Space Agency JAXA and will fly its own science mission around Mercury.
While the mission might be straightforward enough, its path to Mercury is anything but. It will conduct one flyby of Earth, two past Venus, and six of Mercury itself before it will arrive in December of 2025 and start its science mission. Approved in 2009, BepiColumbo is a part of ESA’s Horizon 2000+ program and will be the last mission of that initiative to be sent aloft.
To view more images of the BepiColombo spacecraft click here: BepiColombo.
A native of the Netherlands, van Oene became ‘infected’ with the ‘space virus’ by an enthusiastic school teacher in 1981. Since 1994 he has been a freelance space photographer and writer for magazines and websites in Holland, Belgium and ‘Spaceflight’, the magazine of the British Interplanetary Society. van Oene is also the co-founder and CFO of SPACEPATCHES.NL. This Netherlands-based foundation currently produces all the official Soyuz crew patches for the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos.