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BepiColombo is Europe’s first mission to Mercury, the innermost planet of the Solar System. It consists of two orbiters, one for planetary investigation and the other for magnetospheric studies. They will reach Mercury in 2023 after a 6,5-year journey towards the inner Solar System in order to make the most extensive and detailed study of the planet ever performed.
The 'Mercury Planetary Orbiter' (MPO), under ESA’s responsibility, will study the surface and the internal composition of the planet at different wavelengths and with different techniques. The Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), under the responsibility of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (ISAS/JAXA), will study the planet’s magnetosphere. This is the region of space around Mercury that is dominated by its magnetic field.
Only two spacecraft have visited Mercury so far. NASA's Mariner 10 provided the first close-up images of the planet when it flew past three times in 1974-75. More than 30 years later, on 14 January 2008, NASA’s MESSENGER swung by Mercury. In the course of its journey to eventually settle in orbit around the planet in 2011, MESSENGER made two other flybys, on 6/10/08 and 29/09/09. The spacecraft provided new close-up images and scientific data of the planet.
When BepiColombo reaches its destination in 2023, it will be only the second spacecraft to orbit Mercury in the history of planetary exploration.
The difficulty of reaching, surviving and operating in the harsh environment of a planet so close to Sun makes BepiColombo one of the most challenging long-term planetary projects undertaken by ESA so far.
BepiColombo is named after Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo (1920-84), a scientist who studied Mercury's orbital motion in detail and greatly contributed to the study of orbits and interplanetary travel.
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