Arianespace has successfully launched the BepiColombo spacecraft. The spacecraft is a joint venture between Europe’s ESA and Japan’s JAXA to study the solar system’s smallest and least explored planet, Mercury.
The Ariane 5 carrying the BepiColombo spacecraft lifted off from the Guiana Space Center on 20 October at 01:45 UTC (10:45 on Oct. 19 local time). Approximately 27 minutes after liftoff, the spacecraft separated from the Ariane 5 upper stage and entered into its Earth escape orbit. Following separation, officials from the ESA and JAXA confirmed that the spacecraft’s solar arrays had been deployed and that it was operating under its own power.
The BepiColombo spacecraft will now settle in for the seven-year journey to Mercury. Once there, It will be captured by Mercurian gravity and enter into an orbit around the planet. It is expected to conduct a one-year primary mission with its design life allowing for a one-year mission extension.
Named after Italian Mathematician and engineer Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo, the BepiColombo spacecraft carries two orbiters. The first is the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO). It was developed by the ESA and has the capability to accurately map the planet’s surface and interior. The second orbiter is the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). It was developed and built by JAXA and will investigate the planet’s magnetosphere.
Prior to BepiColombo, only two missions had been launched to study Mercury. NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft was the first. It made three close approaches of the planet between 1974 and 1975 giving us our first look at Mercury’s cratered surface. Almost four decades later, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft became the first to enter into an orbit around the planet. The spacecraft completed a one-year primary mission and an additional one-year extended mission before impacting with Mercury’s surface on April 20, 2015.