Mercury mission to explore origin of solar system

Mercury mission to explore origin of solar system

European and Japanese space agencies said an Ariane 5 rocket successfully lifted a spacecraft carrying two probes into orbit Saturday for a joint mission to Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.

"There is a long and exciting road ahead of us before BepiColombo starts collecting data for the science community", says Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science.

It's in its first stage of a seven-year five billion mile journey to the closest planet to the Sun.

The spacecraft is specially created to withstand the sun's high temperatures, as well as its gravitational pull.

The European Space Agency said the 1.3 billion-euro ($1.5 billion) BepiColombo mission is one of the most challenging in its history. "This global effort, with Airbus teams from five countries, is the natural effect of humanity's desire to discover more about this little known planet and the origins of our solar system".

Once BepiColombo, which is named after an Italian scientist, arrives in late 2025, it will release two probes that will independently investigate the surface and magnetic field of Mercury. The two craft will then spend seven years traveling through the void before arriving at their Mercury destination, a metallic outpost in a relatively warm part of the solar system.

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.

The Mercury Planetary Orbiter will also come equipped with a radiator created to reflect heat from the spacecraft, keeping it functioning even when close to the sun.

In 2025 it will place two probes, one European and the other Japanese, in orbit around Mercury, the least explored planet in the solar system. It will study the internal structure, the magnetic field and the surface composition. At its closest approach, Mercury is just 77 million kilometers from Earth, or not all that much further than the closest that Earth comes to Mars.

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Enlarge / Some of the main science themes for the BepiColombo mission. "At Mercury, we get 10 times the solar energy we get at Earth".

Normally if going outward in our solar system, these planetary flybys would speed up the spacecraft, but for BepiColombo, it is for braking.

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

"The global collaboration involved in this mission shows how our leading role in the European Space Agency is ensuring the UK thrives in the new space age, bringing real benefits to UK companies and scientists", said Dr Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency.

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

The transport spacecraft will use an innovative type of solar electric-powered ion thruster system to adjust its course along the way.

NASA's Mariner 10 probe, launched to Mercury in 1973, mapped around 45 percent of the planet's surface, and its MESSENGER mission took off over three decades later in 2004 to complete the survey.

Compared to satellites that spend their lives in orbit around Earth, BepiColombo will be immediately ejected from its home planet and begin heading in the direction of Venus.

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