European Space Agency and JAXA launches an unmanned Bepi Colombo spacecraft to Mercury

The European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have successfully launched an unmanned Bepi Colombo spacecraft into orbit from an Ariane 5 rocket for a joint mission to Mercury, the planet closest to the sun. The spacecraft has been named after Italian scientist Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo. The unmanned spacecraft will have to follow an elliptical path that involves a fly-by of Earth, two of Venus and six of Mercury itself so it can slow down before arriving at its destination in December 2025. When it arrives, Bepi Colombo will release two probes – Bepi and Mio – that will independently investigate the surface and magnetic field of Mercury. Mercury’s extreme temperatures, the intense gravity pull of the sun and blistering solar radiation make for hellish conditions. The probes are designed to cope with temperatures varying from 430 degrees Celsius (806 F) on the side facing the sun, and -180 degrees Celsius (-292 F) in Mercury’s shadow. The ESA-developed Bepi will operate in Mercury’s inner orbit, and JAXA’s Mio will be in the outer orbit to gather data that would reveal the internal structure of the planet. The only other spacecraft to visit Mercury was NASA’s Mariner 10 that flew past the planet in the mid-1970s.

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