Bye-bye, BepiColombo: Rocket's red glare kicks off a marathon mission to Mercury

Spacewatch: mission to Mercury braced for blast-off

BepiColombo spacecraft set for mission to Mercury

The first sets of images are planned to be taken around 12 hours and 1.5 days after launch and returned to Earth shortly after.

Here, the BepiColombo spacecraft stack is being hoisted up inside the Final Assembly Building, in preparation to be mounted on the Ariane 5 launch vehicle.

European and Japanese space agencies say an Ariane 5 rocket has successfully lifted a spacecraft into orbit for a joint mission to Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.

One craft, called the Mercury Planetary Orbiter, will carry 11 scientific instruments to the small planet; they're all focused on mapping Mercury and the space environment that surrounds it.

Among the themes to be studies are Mercury's interior structure, the characterises of its internal field, the structure of its exosphere and the dynamics of the planet magnetosphere.

The BepiColombo 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 sufficiently before arriving at its destination in December 2025.

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Enlarge / Some of the main science themes for the BepiColombo mission. Temperatures at Mercury range from extremely hot, up to 450°C, to extremely cold, down to -180°C.

Scientists speculate that this may have accumulated from comets crashing onto Mercury's surface.

BepiColombo is the first European mission to the innermost planet in the solar system and the first spacecraft bound for Mercury in more than a decade.

Image copyright ESAImage caption The stack is unpacked at Mercury to enable complementary observations What are the big mysteries?

To overcome this gravity, a mission meant to reach a stable orbit around the tiny planet of Mercury (with a gravity of just 3.7 m/s) therefore requires an enormous amount of energy-more than is required to send a probe to Pluto. It also has the highest orbital eccentricity of any planet and virtually no axial tilt.

"This wider array of instruments will enable us to not only make new discoveries, but also review Messenger's data", said Dominique Delcourt, a member of the team running instruments on the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter.

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Earlier missions have detected evidence of ice in the deepest recesses of the planet's polar craters. The first spacecraft to visit Mercury was NASA's Mariner 10 that flew past the planet in the mid-1970s. Many of these features were unexpected discoveries from Mariner 10 or MESSENGER. Mercury is considered to be the least explored Planet in the solar system.

Traveling in a controlled manner toward the Sun requires more energy than traveling away.

The trip inward doesn't actually begin until April 2020 when the BepiColombo spacecraft races past Earth, using the planet's gravity to bend the trajectory onto a course carrying the satellites toward Venus.

The launch window for BepiColombo opened on 5 October and closes on 29 November 2018 - a window created to ensure the trajectory and multiple planetary flybys and gravity assists needed to eventually insert BepiColombo into the orbit of Mercury can be achieved via planetary alignments of Earth, Venus, and Mercury.

Once BepiColombo has achieved its intended orbit, data transmission to Earth will take about 15 minutes, according to the statement by Bern University.

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