European Space Agency’s (Esa) first mission to Mercury- BepiColombo, is all set for launch.
- The four-tonne spacecraft will be launched into orbit by Esa’s rocket Ariane 5 from the European spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana, on 20 October.
- It will then make a 2bn mile (8.5bn km) journey over seven years to reach its destination by 2025.
The main objectives of the mission are:
- Study the origin and evolution of a planet close to its parent star
- Study Mercury as a planet—its form, interior, structure, geology, composition and craters
- Investigate Mercury’s exosphere, composition and dynamics, including generation and escape
- Study Mercury’s magnetised envelope (magnetosphere) – structure and dynamics
- Investigate the origin of Mercury’s magnetic field
- Verify Einstein’s theory of general relativity by measuring the parameters gammaand beta of the parameterized post-Newtonian formalism with high accuracy.
BepiColombo is a joint mission between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), executed under ESA leadership.
The mission comprises two spacecraft: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). The MPO will study the surface and internal composition of the planet, and the MMO will study Mercury’s magnetosphere, that is, the region of space around the planet that is influenced by its magnetic field.
Significance: Mercury is a poorly explored planet. So far, only two spacecraft have visited the planet: NASA’s Mariner 10, which flew past three times in 1974–5 and returned the first close-up images of the planet, and NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, which performed three flybys (two in 2008 and one in 2009) before entering orbit around the planet in March 2011. The information obtained when BepiColombo arrives will throw light not only on the composition and history of Mercury, but also on the history and formation of the inner planets in general, including Earth.