This trio of images was captured by the BepiColombo spacecraft after it blasted off into space at 01:45 GMT on 20 October on its seven year cruise to Mercury, the innermost planet of the Solar System.
In the hours immediately after launch, critical operations took place, including deployments of the solar wings and antennas. The Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) has two 15 m-long solar arrays that will be used to generate power, while the antennas onboard ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) are needed to communicate with Earth, and eventually to transmit science data. The deployments were all confirmed by telemetry sent by the spacecraft to ESA’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
The transfer module is also equipped with three monitoring cameras – or ‘M-CAMs’ – which provide black-and-white snapshots in 1024 x 1024 pixel resolution. The M-CAM 1 camera imaged one of the deployed solar wings of the transfer module (left), while M-CAM 2 and M-CAM 3 captured the medium- and high-gain antennas on the MPO (centre, and right, respectively), along with other structural elements of the spacecraft.
Click here for an infographic showing the locations of the cameras onboard the MTM together with the new images.
The monitoring cameras will be used on various occasions during the cruise phase, notably during the flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury. While the MPO is equipped with a high-resolution scientific camera, this can only be operated after separating from the MTM upon arrival at Mercury in late 2025 because, like several of the 11 instrument suites, it is located on the side of the spacecraft fixed to the MTM during cruise.
JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter sits inside a protective sunshield on ‘top’ of the MPO, and cannot be seen in these images.
BepiColombo is a joint endeavour between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA. It is the first European mission to Mercury, the smallest and least explored planet in the inner Solar System, and the first to send two spacecraft to make complementary measurements of the planet and its dynamic environment at the same time.