BepiColombo spacecraft joint mission of European-Japanese space agencies
The unmanned BepiColombo spacecraft is the joint mission of the European-Japanese space agencies. It is named after Italian scientist Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo. Recently, it has successfully completed its near-Earth commissioning phase and is now ready for the operations that will take place during the cruise and for its scientific investigations at Mercury. The mission comprises two science orbiters: ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). The ESA-built Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) will carry the orbiters to Mercury using a combination of solar electric propulsion and gravity assist flybys – one of Earth, two at Venus, and six at Mercury – prior to MPO and MMO orbit insertions. Earlier, on 20th October 2018, BepiColombo started its 7-year long journey to the Solar System’s innermost planet from an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Since launch, BepiColombo has already covered over 450 million km – just about 4% of the total distance it will have to travel before arriving at Mercury at the end of 2025. The composite spacecraft is now some 50 million km from Earth, and tele-commands take about 3 minutes to reach it.