The European Space Agency (ESA), together with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), will launch the BepiColombo mission towards Mercury on Saturday, October 20th. On board of an Ariane 5 rocket, the space probe will head to the planet closest to the Sun in order to discover many of the secrets it still guards, according to ESA.
BepiColombo will be the third probe to visit Mercury after NASA’s Mariner 10 in the mid-1970s and MESSENGER between 2011 and 2015. Specifically, what the European-Japanese mission is going to try to discover is how Mercury originated and how it has evolved since then to the present day.
To do that, it will study its surface and interior, the composition and dynamics of its exosphere, the structure, and dynamics of its magnetosphere, and the origin of its magnetic field. ESA and JAXA BepiColombo would also help scientists understand the formation and evolution of the Solar System and thus contribute to an understanding of how the innermost planets of other solar systems form and evolve, as explained Mauro Casale.
“For example, one of the MESSENGER measurements seems to indicate that Mercury formed much further away from the Sun (even a little further away than Mars) and then approached at a later stage,” he says.
ESA and JAXA will launch BepiColombo mission towards Mercury on October 20th
The BepiColombo mission consists of two satellites, namely, the MPO (Mercury Planetary Orbiter) and MMO (Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter). The first is the one that will observe the planet from its orbit, studying the composition, topography, and morphology of its surface, as well as its interior, while the second one will focus on the study of the planet’s environment and its magnetosphere.
Mercury is the planet closest to the Sun, and it is also the smallest one in the Solar System. These circumstances mean that its study with the BepiColombo space probes is more complicated than usual.
“We could say that BepiColombo is currently driving space technology by building a satellite capable of flying in a ‘pizza oven’ and withstanding the heat of Mercury,” says Mauro Casale.
According to Casale, the satellite will have to withstand temperature changes ranging from -170 degrees Celsius to 450 degrees Celsius, solar radiation ten times more intense than what any other space probe experiences, an infrared flux 20 times higher than on Earth, a very fierce ultraviolet radiation, and the solar wind blowing at a speed of 400 kilometers per second, among others.