BepiColombo in a nutshell
A mission to Mercury
Name BepiColombo is named after Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo (1920-1984), a scientist who studied Mercury's orbital motion in detail as well as orbits and interplanetary travel in general.
Description Consisting of two orbiting spacecraft, BepiColombo will provide the most complete exploration yet of Mercury, the innermost planet of our Solar System. The Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) will map the planet, while the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) will investigate its magnetosphere.
Launch Launch is scheduled for 2018.
Status Being built and tested.
Journey Both orbiters will be launched together on a single Ariane 5 rocket from ESA's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. To guide its journey, BepiColombo will exploit the gravity of the Earth, Venus and Mercury in combination with solar-electric propulsion (SEP).
During the voyage to Mercury the two orbiters and the transfer module, consisting of electric propulsion and traditional chemical rocket units, will form one single composite spacecraft. Arrival at Mercury will be in late 2024.
Notes Most of ESA's previous interplanetary missions have been to relatively cold parts of the Solar System. BepiColombo will be the Agency's first experience of sending a planetary probe close to the Sun.
The journey from Earth to Mercury is also special because the spacecraft must brake against the Sun's gravity, which increases with proximity to the Sun. This requires a lot of energy. Most other missions must accelerate away from the Sun, as it is the case with journeys to the outer Solar System.
When approaching Mercury, the side of BepiColombo facing the Sun will have to withstand temperatures higher than 300°C, while that facing away from the Sun will experience contrasting temperatures below –200°C.
The day side of Mercury is very hot while the night side is extremely cold. BepiColombo will attempt to find out if there is water ice in permanently shadowed areas of craters in the polar regions.
BepiColombo is ESA's first mission conducted in co-operation with Japan.
Last update: 20 April 2016