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BepiColombo Spacecraft - ESA and JAXA Joint Mission to Mercury

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October 22, 2018

Why in news?

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully sent two probes on a joint mission to Mercury.

What is the mission on?

  • It is the first European mission to Mercury.
  • It is also the first to send two spacecraft to make complementary measurements of mercury and its environment at the same time.
  • An Ariane 5 rocket was launched from French Guyana.
  • It lifted an unmanned spacecraft, BepiColombo, which is carrying the two probes.
  • The spacecraft separated and went into orbit for the 7-year trip to Mercury.

What are the components?

  • The orbiters are ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO, or ‘Mio’).
  • A third component is the ESA-built Mercury Transfer Module (MTM).
  • MTM will support the duo during the long cruise to the solar system's innermost planet.
  • BepiColombo is scheduled to slip into orbit around Mercury in December 2025, after nine different planetary flybys (one of Earth, two of Venus and six of Mercury).
  • It uses a combination of solar electric propulsion and the gravity assist flybys.
  • Gravity assists flybys are precision maneuvers that involves the harnessing and using the gravity of a planet to accelerate and direct a spacecraft to its destination.
  • Flybys are essentially used to increase the energy of a spacecraft's solar orbit beyond the velocity afforded by its launch vehicle.


What are the objectives?

  • Venus en route - The two orbiters will be able to operate some of their instruments during the cruise phase, to try and collect data at Venus.
  • Also, some of the instruments designed to study Mercury in a particular way can be used in a completely different way at Venus (has a thicker atmosphere).
  • Mercury - A few months before reaching Mercury, the transfer module will be abandoned.
  • This will leave the two science orbiters to be captured by Mercury’s gravity.
  • MPO will separate and descend to its own orbit, and together the orbiters will make measurements.
  • The diverse data gathered by the duo will offer a comprehensive picture of the rocky planet.
  • It would shed light on its composition, structure, magnetic field, formation and evolution, among other characteristics.


  • Challenges - The Sun’s enormous gravity makes it difficult to place a spacecraft into a stable orbit around Mercury.
  • Thus the mission will have to ensure a controlled fall.
  • Also, the spacecraft has hence been specially designed for extreme temperatures.


Source: Indian Express

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