The European and Japanese Space Organizations launched their first mission to Mercury yesterday (October 19th, 20th October GMT), but now…
The European and Japanese Space Organizations launched their first mission to Mercury yesterday (October 19th, 20th October GMT), but now the missionary engineers and admirers must endure a seven-year wait before the science of science begins seriously.
The BepiColombo mission has such a long cruise time because it’s really really hard to successfully run our tiniest planetary neighbor. It’s so hard that it took until 1985 before an engineer turned out to be a way to make the orbital paths work properly.
The problem arises because Mercury is so small and so close to the sun. This means that the sun circulates extremely quickly, and a spacecraft hoping to visit the innermost planet must travel pedal-to-the-metal to enter the fast-paced world. But it’s a big catch: the sun’s gravity will drag the spacecraft as strong to the star as a craft that BepiColombo actually needs to brake during the whole cruise to avoid pulling off itself. [BepiColombo in Pictures: A Mercury Mission by Europe and Japan]
To address this dual challenge, BepiColombos has are carefully thought of a combination of solar energy, chemical fuel and planetary aircraft, which will work together to control spacecraft through this celestial obstacle course. All in all, the spacecraft will spend more energy than it would try to reach Pluto, which is near the edge of the solar system. But the planetary airfields will lead BepiColombos cruise time to a total of more than seven years.
The mission’s series of airfields – one of the earth in April 2020, two of Venus in 2020 and 2021 and six of mercury itself between 2021 and 2025 – each will tweak the spacecraft’s orbit just a little, push it closer and closer to the mission’s goals. These airfields will also give engineers a chance to make sure that many of the instruments on board BepiColombo work as they should be, as more than half of them will be put on.
Since December 2025, BepiColombo will slide its way around the small planet. When the probe does, it will differ in the two spacecraft science that is currently united for the long journeys: Europe’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). These two spacecraft will fly in complementary lanes, with MPO circling the planet every 2.3 hours and MMO does it every 9.3 hours.
If everything goes according to the scientists’ plans, the careful twirls will let the 16 instruments that make BepiColombo collect a lot of eyebrow raising data about small, weird mercury and how our entire solar system came.