The recently launched European-Japanese BepiColombo mission has just taken a selfie, on which we can see its insulation-wrapped sun sensor and an extended solar array. The spacecraft, which was launched from Kourou in French Guiana on Friday, took its first photo just one day later.
Japan and Europe join forces to explore Mercury
BepiColombo consists of two spacecraft – the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), created by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), which was developed by the European Space Agency. The Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) is a third component, whose role is to support both spacecraft on their long journey to the first planet from the Sun – Mercury.
On the way to uncover the mysteries of Mercury
There is a long road ahead of these two spacecraft, as they are expected to reach Mercury in December 2025. In the meantime, MMO, MPO and MTM will follow an unusual trajectory, passing next to Earth once, Venus twice and Mercury six times. Once they reach their destination, the spacecraft will have to thread a needle to get to Mercury and avoid the Sun’s strong gravity. As soon as they land on the planet, these two orbiters will start their separate missions. The scientists hope that the gathered data will help them to learn more about the composition, geology and past of Mercury.
Three monitoring cameras will be used during the cruise
The picture was taken by the first black-and-white monitoring camera that was installed on the MTM, while the other two cameras are set to be activated later on. Talking about the monitoring cameras, ESA explained that they “will be used on various occasions during the cruise phase, notably during the flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury. While the MPO is equipped with a high-resolution scientific camera, this can only be operated after separating from the MTM upon arrival at Mercury in late 2025 because, like several of the 11 instruments suites, it is located on the side of the spacecraft fixed to the MTM during Cruise”.