Science

Japan joint mission set out for Mercury

Japan joint mission set out for Mercury

Final preparations were underway Friday for the launch of a joint mission by European and Japanese space agencies to send twin probes to Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.

The launch that took place from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on Saturday morning is a significant milestone in itself.

It is likely to take them seven years to reach their destination.

One of the mission's greatest challenges will be the sun's enormous gravity, which makes it hard to place a spacecraft into a stable orbit around Mercury.

After launch, the combo spacecraft will first make flybys for Earth, Venus and the sun as it picks up speed before making the first flyby of Mercury in 2021.

The European Space Agency's Mercury Planet Orbiter (MPO) and Japanese space agency Jaxa's Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) will study Mercury for up to two years. "This worldwide effort, with Airbus teams from five countries, is the natural outcome of humanity's desire to discover more about this little known planet and the origins of our solar system".

BepiColombo was named after the late Giuseppe "Bepi" Colombo, an Italian scientist and engineer who played a leading role in the 1974 Mariner 10 mission.

"Today's new success marks the beginning of a seven-year trip for BepiColombo, taking advantage of gravitational assistance from Earth, Venus, and Mercury", said Israël. The space probe will then swing into orbit around Mercury before each orbiter enters its own orbit and begins the actual scientific exploration of the planet.




These instruments will help investigate the magnetospheric interaction between the planet and the solar wind and explore the planet's surface by remote sensing, according to a statement by Bern Universityexternal link.

The mission is primarily composed of two orbital craft, one each developed by ESA and JAXA.

"Mercury is extremely hot and it's an extremely hard place to get to because of the gravity of the sun", Justin Byrne, head of science at Airbus, which led the project to build the spacecraft, told the UK's Press Association. It also is the 121st Airbus-produced spacecraft lofted by Arianespace, which has a backlog of 22 additional satellites to orbit for this manufacturer on future flights.

"What we know about Mercury doesn't really fit into our understanding of the solar system", he added.

BepiColombo will be just the third mission to visit Mercury.

Astronomers and space-themed editorials have long speculated that the mission to Mercury may bring us closer in the search for alien life. One of the monitoring cameras is positioned on the MTM with a field of view looking up towards the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), which sits above.

Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, but not the hottest.

But there will also be the sun's enormous gravity to deal with, and ion thrusters will be used to constantly push back against the pull of our star. NASA's MESSENGER orbiter (2011-2015) revealed many reasons why scientists are keen to learn more about it. NASA's Mariner 10 made three brief fly-bys in the 1970s, and the U.S. space agency's Messenger orbiter circled the planet between March 2011 and April 2015, when it ran out of fuel and crashed onto Mercury's surface.