A review yesterday means that Europe’s first mission to Mercury – BepiColombo – will soon be ready to be transported to the spaceport and begin final preparations for launch.
The mission passed a review yesterday, meaning that the three BepiColombo spacecraft, along with ground equipment and mission experts, are confirmed to start the move to Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, from ESA’s centre in the Netherlands, next month.
The launch window is open from 5 October to 29 November.
ESA’s BepiColombo project manager, Ulrich Reininghaus, said: “It’s been a long and occasionally bumpy road to this point, and there is still plenty to do until we are ready for launch.”
He added: “We are extremely pleased to finally move our preparations to the launch site, and are grateful to everyone who has made this possible.”
Preparation for the mission
Six months is needed for essential preparation, including more review checkpoints.
Some of the work includes:
- Dressing the spacecraft in protective insulation to prepare for the harsh space environment and extreme temperatures close to the Sun;
- Attaching and testing the solar wings and their deployment mechanisms;
- Installing the sunshield;
- Fuelling; and
- Connecting the three spacecrafts together.
The seven-year mission will go around the inner Solar System to investigate Mercury. A transfer module will carry two orbiters to the innermost planet, using a combination of solar power, electric propulsion and nine gravity-assist flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury.
These orbiters will take measurements of the planet and its environment from different orbits, from its deep interior to its interaction with the solar wind, providing the best understanding of Mercury to date. It will also shed light on how the innermost planet of a solar system forms and evolves close to its parent star.
BepiColombo is a joint endeavour between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA.
An interview with DG of ESA Johann-Dietrich Wörner, will feature in SciTech Europa Quarterly issue 27, where he will discuss the BepiColombo mission amongst many other topics.