The BepiColombo Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) has returned its first image of the deployed medium-gain antenna onboard the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO). The actual deployment took place yesterday, and was confirmed by telemetry.
The medium-gain antenna and part of the Sun-illuminated antenna boom is clearly seen at the top left; the cone-shaped antenna points to the right. At the very top right of the image the honeycomb structure of the MTM is visible, where the camera is mounted and looks out into space. One of the hold-down release mechanisms of the MTM solar array is also seen – this is the cone-like structure facing down. A glimpse of the MPO is seen in the background; its white multi-layered insulation is overexposed in the image. A section of one of the solar arrays of the MTM is seen at the bottom of the image, together with a hold-down bracket on the yoke.
The transfer module is equipped with three monitoring cameras, which provide black-and-white snapshots in 1024 x 1024 pixel resolution. This image was taken by the ‘M-CAM 2’ camera (click here to see the location and field of view of all three monitoring cameras.)
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.
BepiColombo launched at 01:45 GMT on 20 October on an Ariane 5. 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.