Europe goes to Mercury
This image provides a close-up on the jets of ionised gas ejected by BepiColombo’s solar-electric propulsion (SEP) system.
In its cruise configuration, BepiColombo consists of: a transfer module, the Mercury Planetary Orbit (MPO), the sun shield and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).
The transfer module is provided with both solar-electric propulsion and chemical propulsion units. The former will be used during the cruise to destination; the latter will be used to boost the initial launch orbit out to the Moon for a gravity assist manoeuvre.
Credits: ESA - C. Carreau
At the meeting in Naples (20-23 September 1999), the European Space Agency's Science Programme Committee recognised the achievements of the late Giuseppe Colombo of the University of Padua by adopting his name for the Mercury project which was then under consideration. Almost everything known until now about the planet Mercury comes from three passes by NASA's Mariner 10 in 1974-75, which were inspired by Colombo's calculations. He suggested how to put that spacecraft into an orbit that would bring it back repeatedly to Mercury. The Italian scientist also explained, as an unsuspected resonance, Mercury's peculiar habit of rotating three times in every two revolutions of the Sun.
After launch in 2014, the BepiColombo composite spacecraft will start its six-year interplanetary journey to Mercury.
A mission to the inner Solar System is extremely challenging from the technical point of view: not only will the spacecraft have to survive and operate in the very hot environment around a planet so close to the Sun, but it will also require a large amount of energy to brake against the Sun’s gravity and enter into orbit around Mercury.
Credits: ESA - AOES Medialab