Oct 19, 2018: European and Japanese space agencies launch joint mission to Mercury
FRENCH GUIANA - The BepiColombo mission finally begins its journey to Mercury from the European Space Agency (ESA) spaceport in Kourou aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. The joint ESA and Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission will take a close look at Mercury, the smallest and least explored terrestrial planet in the Solar System.
The rocket carries a spacecraft called the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) — which supplies electrical power during interplanetary cruising – and two separate orbiters: Europe's Mercury Planet Orbiter and Japan's Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. They will study the planet’s interior structure, geology, composition and magnetic field, and search for more signs of possible water ice in some of Mercury’s shadowed craters. The overall goal is to compile a map of Mercury that fills in the many blanks left by NASA’s Mariner 10 satellite in the 1970s and the Messenger satellite launched in 2004, which arrived at Mercury in 2011 and has since completed its primary mission.
The spacecraft will take about seven years to get into orbit around Mercury, using several gravity assists from Earth and Venus.
The mission has been years in the planning, but has been delayed several times from its original launch date of 2013. It is named after Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo (1920-1984), a scientist, mathematician and engineer at the University of Padua, Italy. He was the first to see that an unsuspected resonance is responsible for Mercury’s habit of rotating on its axis three times for every two revolutions it makes around the Sun.