Published: Wed, October 24, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

Japan-Europe joint Mercury mission launched

Japan-Europe joint Mercury mission launched

A European-Japanese spacecraft set off on a treacherous seven-year journey to Mercury to probe the solar system's smallest and least-explored planet.

The ambitious BepiColombo spacecraft will be launched from a European space port in French Guiana early Saturday.

This diagram shows the spacecraft that comprise the BepiColombo Mercury mission, as well as the location of the monitoring camera that took the mission's first photo - the selfie seen at left, which was captured on October 20, 2018, the day after the mission launched.

Another major challenge for mission planners was ensuring the spacecraft could withstand the searing temperatures of more than 350C so close to the sun.

The module will use the gravity wells of the Earth, Venus and Mercury to slingshot itself through the solar system.

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BepiColombo is a joint mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Space Exploration Agency, known as JAXA. The first American mission was launched in the 1970s, a "flyby" project that sent probes to Mercury for around an hour at a time.

Only two previous missions, both carried out by NASA, have reached the planet before. Mercury's almost non-existent atmosphere also means that the planet itself will be giving off extremely hot temperatures, pinning the obiters in a "heat sandwich" for most of their lifespan. JAXA's Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) hosts a magnetometer, a spectral imager, and plasma physics instruments to study the origin, strength, and extent of the planet's magnetic field and exosphere.

Mercury has always been the least explored planet in our solar system, but that could be about to change thanks to a British-built spacecraft. The mission also hopes to study the solar wind, Mercury's inner structure, and how Mercury interacts with the area around the sun. Eastern, marking the beginning of a 9-billion kilometer trip to the closest planet to the Sun.

Airbus in the United Kingdom built large parts of the MPO and the mission's propulsion unit, called the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM).

If you haven't been up to date about the European and Japanese space agencies working together in a project called The BepiColombo Mission, then here's a short article about it on Great Lakes Ledger.

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"This wider array of instruments will enable us to not only make new discoveries, but also review Messenger's data", said Dominique Delcourt, a member of the team running instruments on the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter.

"What we know about Mercury doesn't really fit into our understanding of the solar system", he added.

ESA says the 1.3 billion-euro ($1.5 billion) mission is one of the most challenging in its history.

"After launch, and having escaped the "gravity well" of Earth, BepiColombo has to constantly brake against the gravitational pull of the sun". It was he who proposed the NASA trajectory that allowed Mariner 10 to fly by the planet. A third component, the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM), serves to support this duo during the long cruise to the solar system's innermost planet.

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.

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