Artist’s impression of the BepiColombo spacecraft in cruise configuration, with Mercury in the background. The Mercury Transfer Module is shown with ion thrusters firing, and with its solar wings extended. The solar array of the Mercury Planetary Orbiter in the middle is seen extending to the top. The Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter is hidden inside the sunshield in this orientation.
Credit: ESA/ATG medialab; Mercury: NASA/JPL

The European Space Agency’s BepiColombo mission to Mercury is scheduled to launch aboard an Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on October 20.

BepiColombo is a joint endeavor between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA. It’s an ambitious seven-year flight as the mission will make one flyby of Earth, two at Venus, and six at Mercury, before entering orbit.

Two orbiters

The mission comprises two science orbiters: ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO, or ‘Bepi’) and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO, or ‘Mio’). Once at Mercury, the two orbiters will operate from different orbits to provide the most detailed study of the innermost planet date, from its interior to surface features, to its interaction with the solar wind.

The BepiColombo spacecraft ‘stack’ is complete. ESA’s Mercury Transfer Module sits at the bottom, its two arrays folded for launch. It will use a combination of solar electric propulsion, chemical propulsion, and nine gravity assist flybys over seven years to deliver the two science orbiters to Mercury. On top is JAXA’s eight-sided Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. The sunshield that will protect the module during the cruise phase will be added about a week before launch.
Credit: ESA–B.Guillaume

The ESA-built Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) will carry the orbiters to Mercury using a combination of solar electric propulsion and gravity assist flybys.

Cruise phase science

BepiColombo is the first European mission to Mercury, the smallest and least explored planet in the inner Solar System.

The orbiters will be able to operate some of their instruments during the cruise phase, affording unique opportunities to collect scientifically valuable data at Venus, for example.

BepiColombo builds upon the discoveries and questions raised by NASA’s Messenger mission, which orbited the planet between 2011 and 2015, to provide the best understanding of the Solar System’s innermost planet to date.

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