Europe, Japan send spacecraft on 7-year journey to Mercury
Europe, Japan send spacecraft on 7-year journey to Mercury
Image The Bepi Colombo will launch early on Saturday
20 October, 2018, 16:53
Following a seven-year voyage to reach Mercury's orbit, the spacecraft stack will separate.
BepiColombo is a seven-year, dual spacecraft mission to Mercury, the nearest planet to the sun, led by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The BepiColombo space mission will take off from a spaceport in French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America at 12:45pm Australian Eastern Daylight Time.
But it's very unlikely that life will be found - temperatures on Mercury range from highs of 800 degrees Fahrenheit to lows of minus 290 degrees, according to NASA, making it nearly impossible that the planet could support life. A few months before arriving at Mercury, the transfer module will be jettisoned, leaving the two science orbiters - still connected to each other - to be captured by Mercury's gravity. All those close encounters are carefully created to slow down BepiColombo's speed enough to put it into a stable orbit around Mercury in 2025. "We have to constantly brake to ensure a controlled fall towards the Sun, with the ion thrusters providing the low thrust needed over long durations of the cruise phase".
But that's still not enough to do the job. 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. It is due to finally reach its destination in December 2025.
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Flying a mission so close to the sun is tricky for a few reasons. JAXA's MMO will orbit at a higher altitude, ranging up to 7,200 miles above the surface.
Getting to Mercury is not easy! "That was a very big challenge".
The spacecraft is fitted with futurist ion plasma engines, designed and built in the United Kingdom, which emit beams of electrically charged xenon gas. It'll be building on the information gathered by NASA's Messenger probe, which finished its four-year orbit in 2015.
To be successful, however, BepiColombo must weather some extreme conditions.
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ESA's Mercury Planetary Orbiter carries 11 instruments, including cameras, spectrometers, a radiometer, laser altimeter, magnetometer and others will focus on the planet's surface and internal composition. "It is thanks to the worldwide collaboration and the decades of efforts and expertise of everyone involved in the design and building of this incredible machine, that we are now on our way to investigating planet Mercury's mysteries", an ESA statement quoted Worner as saying.
Among the puzzles is the giant iron core that makes up 60% of the planet. -Is the planet tectonically active? -Do permanently shadowed craters near Mercury's poles hold reservoirs of ice or sulphur?
The visitor, a spacecraft called BepiColombo, is set to launch as early as this weekend.
The problem arises because Mercury is so small and so close to the sun. "Mercury has a magnetic field, which is like Earth's, a dynamo field".
Now Colombo's namesake is heading to the planet he helped us all get to know a little better.
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