The spacecraft of the BepiColombo mission to Mercury have arrived at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, marking the start of six months of preparation to ready the craft for launch.
The join ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission, which comprises three spacecraft modules and a sunshield, were transported from the Netherlands’s Amsterdam Schiphol airport to Kourou on a series of four cargo aircraft over the last two weeks.
ESA has said that over the next six months activities will include:
- Attaching the solar wings to the modules and testing their deployment mechanisms;
- Dressing the spacecrafts in protective insulation to prepare for the harsh space environment and extreme temperatures they will experience operating close to the Sun;
- Installing the sunshield;
- Conducting pressure tests;
- Fuelling; and
- Connecting the three spacecraft together.
What is the Bepicolombo mission for?
The BepiColombo mission is Europe’s first mission to Mercury and consists of two scientific orbiters: ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter.
It will study all aspects of Mercury, from the structure and dynamics of its magnetosphere and how it interacts with the solar wind, to the properties of its large iron core and the origin of its magnetic field.
The ESA Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the JAXA Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter will travel together to the innermost planet, carried by ESA’s Mercury Transfer Module. Once the orbiter has reached Mercury, it will separate, and the three spacecrafts will move into their own orbits to take measurements of Mercury’s interior, surface, exosphere and magnetosphere.
The data will improve our understanding of the planet and of the overall evolution of our Solar System.
The final weeks will see the completed spacecraft stack inside the Ariane 5 rocket fairing, and the preparation of the launch vehicle itself, ready to blast the mission on a seven-year journey around the inner Solar System to reach Mercury and start investigating its mysteries.