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bepicolombo mission, bepicolombo

ESA solar system insignia for the BepiColombo mission

Horizon 2000+ ← LISA Pathfinder

BepiColombo is a joint mission of the European Space Agency ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency JAXA to the planet Mercury3 The mission comprises two satellites to be launched together: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter MPO and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter MMO The mission will perform a comprehensive study on Mercury, including its magnetic field, magnetosphere, interior structure and surface It is scheduled to launch in October 2018, with an arrival at Mercury planned for December 2025, after a flyby of Earth, two flybys of Venus, and six flybys of Mercury14 The mission was approved in November 2009, after years in proposal and planning as part of the European Space Agency's Horizon 2000+ program;5 it will be the last mission of the program to be launched6


  • 1 Mission
    • 11 Objectives
    • 12 Mission design
  • 2 Components
    • 21 Mercury Transport Module
    • 22 Mercury Planetary Orbiter
      • 221 Scientific payload
    • 23 Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter
      • 231 Scientific payload
    • 24 Mercury Surface Element
  • 3 See also
  • 4 References
  • 5 External links


BepiColombo is named after Giuseppe "Bepi" Colombo 1920–1984, a scientist, mathematician and engineer at the University of Padua, Italy, who first implemented the interplanetary gravity-assist manoeuvre during the 1974 Mariner 10 mission, a technique now commonly used by planetary probes

The mission involves three components:7

  • Mercury Transport Module MTM for propulsion, built by ESA
  • Mercury Planetary Orbiter MPO built by ESA
  • Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter MMO built by JAXA
Planned orbits for MMO and MPO satellites, the two probes of the BepiColombo mission

The prime contractor for ESA is Airbus Defence and Space8 ESA is responsible for the overall mission, the design, development assembly and test of the propulsion and MPO modules, and the launch The two orbiters are planned to be launched together on an Ariane 5 launch vehicle in October 2018 The spacecraft will have a seven-year interplanetary cruise to Mercury using solar-electric propulsion ion thrusters and gravity assists from Earth, Venus and eventual gravity capture at Mercury1 ESA's Cebreros 35-metre ground station is planned to be the primary ground facility for communications during all mission phases

Arriving in Mercury orbit on 5 December 2025, the MMO and MPO satellites will separate and observe Mercury in collaboration for one year, with a possible one-year extension1 The orbiters will be equipped with scientific instruments provided by various European countries and Japan They will characterise the huge liquid iron core  3⁄4 of the planet's radius and will complete gravitational and magnetic field mappings Russia will provide a gamma ray and neutron spectrometers to verify the existence of water ice in polar craters that are permanently in shadow from the Sun's rays

Mercury is too small and hot for its gravity to retain any significant atmosphere over long periods of time; it does have a "tenuous surface-bounded exosphere"9 containing hydrogen, helium, oxygen, sodium, calcium, potassium and others Its exosphere is not stable; atoms are continuously lost and replenished from a variety of sources, and the mission will study its composition and dynamics, including generation and disappearance


The main objectives of the mission are:210

  • Study the origin and evolution of a planet close to its parent star
  • Study Mercury as a planet—its form, interior, structure, geology, composition and craters
  • Investigate Mercury's exosphere, composition and dynamics, including generation and disappearance
  • Study Mercury's magnetised envelope magnetosphere - structure and dynamics
  • Investigate the origin of Mercury's magnetic field
  • Verify Einstein's theory of general relativity by measuring the parameters gamma and beta of the parameterized post-Newtonian formalism with high accuracy11

Mission designedit

The spacecraft will have a seven-year interplanetary cruise to Mercury using solar-electric propulsion and nine gravity assists, flying past the Earth and Moon in April 2020, Venus in 2020 and 2021, and six Mercury flybys between 2021 and 20251

The spacecraft will leave Earth with an hyperbolic excess velocity of 3475 km/s 2159 mi/s After two years, it returns to Earth to perform a gravity-assist manoeuvre and is deflected towards Venus Two consecutive Venus flybys reduce the perihelion to Mercury distance with almost no need for thrust A sequence of six Mercury flybys will lower the relative velocity to 176 km/s 109 mi/s Four final thrust arcs further reduce the relative velocity to the point where Mercury will capture the spacecraft on 5 December 2025 into polar orbit; the spacecraft then will be lowered using chemical thrusters1213

The planned mission schedule is:1

Date Event
October 2018 Launch
6 April 2020 Earth flyby
12 October 2020 First Venus flyby
11 August 2021 Second Venus flyby
2 October 2021 First Mercury flyby
23 June 2022 Second Mercury flyby
20 June 2023 Third Mercury flyby
5 September 2024 Fourth Mercury flyby
2 December 2024 Fifth Mercury flyby
9 January 2025 Sixth Mercury flyby
5 December 2025 Mercury orbit insertion
14 March 2026 MPO in final science orbit
1 May 2027 End of nominal mission
1 May 2028 End of extended mission


Mercury Transport Moduleedit

Mercury Transport Module in ESTEC before stacking

The Mercury Transport Module MTM is at the base of the 'stack' and provides propulsion for Earth-Mercury transfer and to slow down its approach to Mercury It carries no significant scientific instruments

The Transport Module is equipped with two propulsion systems: a solar electric ion drive engine and a standard bipropellant chemical propulsion system using MMH / MON3 The chemical propulsion system will be used for Earth escape and then it will be pyrotechnically isolated, and the solar electric ion engine will take over for the cruise phase The twin QinetiQ T6 ion thrusters operate at maximum combined throttle of 290 mN14 The MTM supplies electrical power for the two hibernating orbiters as well as for its solar electric propulsion system15

The solar electric propulsion will be used for the cruise phase The ion drives have very high specific impulse and very low thrust This leads to a flight profile with long continuous low-thrust braking to gradually reduce the velocity of the spacecraft Moments before Mercury orbit insertion, the MTM will be jettisoned from the spacecraft stack15 After separation from the MTM, the MPO will provide the MMO all necessary power and data resources until MMO is delivered to its mission orbit; separation of MMO from MPO will be accomplished by spin-ejection

Mercury Planetary Orbiteredit

Mercury Planetary Orbiter in ESTEC before stacking Radio testing of BepiColombo orbiter

The Mercury Planetary Orbiter MPO will have a mass of 1,150 kg 2,540 lb and will use a single-sided solar array capable of providing up to 1000 watts and featuring Optical Solar Reflectors to keep its temperature below 200 °C 392 °F The solar array requires continuous rotation keeping the Sun at a low incidence angle in order to generate adequate power while at the same time limiting the temperature15

The MPO will carry a payload of 11 instruments, comprising cameras, spectrometers IR, UV, X-ray, γ-ray, neutron, radiometer, laser altimeter, magnetometer, particle analysers, Ka-band transponder, and accelerometer The payload components are mounted on the nadir side of the spacecraft to achieve low detector temperatures, apart from the MERTIS and PHEBUS spectrometers located directly at the main radiator to provide a better field of view15

A high-temperature-resistant 10 m 33 ft diameter high-gain antenna is mounted on a short boom on the zenith side of the spacecraft Communications will be on the X and Ka band with an average bit rate of 50 kbit/s and a total data volume of 1550 Gb/year ESA's Cebreros 35-metre ground station is planned to be the primary ground facility for communications during all mission phases15

Scientific payloadedit

The scientific payload of the Mercury Planetary Orbiter consists of eleven instruments:1617

  • BELA — BepiColombo Laser Altimeter, developed by Switzerland and Germany
  • ISA — Italian Spring Accelerometer, developed by Italy
  • MERMAG — Mercury Magnetometer, developed by Germany and UK
  • MERTIS — Mercury Thermal Infrared Spectrometer, developed by Germany
  • MGNS — Mercury Gamma ray and Neutron Spectrometer, developed by Russia
  • MIXS — Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer, developed by UK and Finland
  • MORE — Mercury Orbiter Radio science Experiment, developed by Italy and the United States
  • PHEBUS — Probing of Hermean Exosphere by Ultraviolet Spectroscopy, developed by France and Russia
  • SERENA — Search for Exosphere Refilling and Emitted Neutral Abundances Neutral and ionised particle analyser, developed by Italy, Sweden, Austria and the United States, contains the Strofio mass spectrometer from NASA's Discovery program18
  • SIMBIO-SYS — Spectrometers and Imagers for MPO BepiColombo Integrated Observatory System High resolution and stereo cameras, visual and near infrared spectrometer, developed by Italy, France and Switzerland
  • SIXS — Solar Intensity X-ray Spectrometer, developed by Finland and UK

Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiteredit

Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter in ESTEC before stacking

The Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter MMO, developed and built mostly by Japan, has the shape of a short octagonal prism, 180 cm 71 in long from face to face and 90 cm 35 in high219 It has a total mass of 285 kg 628 lb, including a 45 kg 99 lb scientific payload220

The MMO is spin stabilized at 15 rpm with the spin axis perpendicular to the equator of Mercury and it will enter polar orbit at an altitude of 590 × 11,640 km 370 × 7,230 mi, outside of MPO's orbit20 The top and bottom of the octagon act as radiators with louvers for active temperature control The sides are covered with solar cells which provide 90 W Communications with Earth will be through a 08 m 26 ft diameter X band phased array high-gain antenna and two medium-gain antennas operating in the X band Telemetry will return 160 Gb/year, about 5 kbit/s over the lifetime of the spacecraft, which is expected to be greater than one year The reaction and control system is based on cold gas thrusters After its release in Mercury orbit, the MMO will be operated by Sagamihara Space Operation Center using Usuda Deep Space Center's 64 m 210 ft antenna located in Nagano, Japan16

Scientific payloadedit

The Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter will carry five groups of instruments with a total scientific payload mass of 45 kg 99 lb:216

  • MPPE — Mercury Plasma Particle Experiment, studies the plasma & neutral particles from the planet, magnetosphere, and interplanetary solar wind It will employ these instruments:
    • Mercury Electron Analyzer MEA
    • Mercury Ion Analyzer MIA
    • Mass Spectrum Analyzer MSA
    • High-Energy Ions HEP-ion
    • High-Energy Electrons HEP-ele
    • Energetic Neutrals Analyzer ENA
  • MGF — Magnetic Field Investigation, studies Mercury's magnetic field, magnetosphere, and interplanetary solar wind
  • PWI — Plasma Wave Investigation, studies the electric field, electromagnetic waves, and radio waves from the magnetosphere and solar wind
  • MSASI — Mercury Sodium Atmosphere Spectral Imager, studies the thin sodium atmosphere of Mercury
  • MDM — Mercury Dust Monitor, studies dust from the planet and interplanetary space

Mercury Surface Elementedit

The Mercury Surface Element MSE was cancelled in 2003 due to budgetary constraints6 At the time of cancellation, MSE was meant to be a small, 44 kg 97 lb, lander designed to operate for about one week on the surface of Mercury12 Shaped as a 09 m 30 ft diameter disc, it was designed to land at a latitude of 85° near the terminator region Braking manoeuvres would bring the lander to zero velocity at an altitude of 120 m 390 ft at which point the propulsion unit would be ejected, the airbags inflated, and the module would fall to the surface with a maximum impact velocity of 30 m/s 98 ft/s Scientific data would be stored onboard and relayed via a cross-dipole UHF antenna to either the MPO or MMO The MSE would have carried a 7 kg 15 lb payload consisting of an imaging system a descent camera and a surface camera, a heat flow and physical properties package, an alpha particle X-ray spectrometer, a magnetometer, a seismometer, a soil penetrating device mole, and a micro-rover21

See alsoedit

  • Exploration of Mercury
  • Mariner 10


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "BepiColombo Factsheet" European Space Agency 6 July 2017 Retrieved 6 July 2017 
  2. ^ a b c d e "MMO/BepiColombo" JAXA 2008 Retrieved 7 February 2014 
  3. ^ Amos, Jonathan 18 January 2008 "European probe aims for Mercury" BBC News Retrieved 21 January 2008 
  4. ^ "BepiColombo Launch Rescheduled for October 2018" European Space Agency 25 November 2016 Retrieved 14 December 2016 
  5. ^ "BepiColombo Overview" European Space Agency 5 September 2016 Retrieved 13 March 2017 
  6. ^ a b "Critical Decisions on Cosmic Vision" Press release European Space Agency 7 November 2003 No 75-2003 Retrieved 14 December 2016 
  7. ^ Hayakawa, Hajime; Maejima, Hironori 2011 BepiColombo Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter MMO PDF 9th IAA Low-Cost Planetary Missions Conference 21–23 June 2011 Laurel, Maryland 
  8. ^ "BepiColombo to Enter Implementation Phase" European Space Agency 26 February 2007 
  9. ^ Domingue, Deborah L; Koehn, Patrick L; et al August 2007 "Mercury's Atmosphere: A Surface-Bounded Exosphere" Space Science Reviews 131 1–4: 161–186 Bibcode:2007SSRv131161D doi:101007/s11214-007-9260-9 
  10. ^ "BepiColombo: Fact Sheet" European Space Agency 1 December 2016 Retrieved 13 December 2016 
  11. ^ "BepiColombo - Testing general relativity" European Space Agency 4 July 2003 Retrieved 7 February 2014 
  12. ^ a b "BepiColombo" National Space Science Data Center NASA 26 August 2014 Retrieved 6 April 2015 
  13. ^ "Mission Operations - Getting to Mercury" European Space Agency Retrieved 7 February 2014 
  14. ^ Clark, Stephen D; Hutchins, Mark S; et al 2013 BepiColombo Electric Propulsion Thruster and High Power Electronics Coupling Test Performances 33rd International Electric Propulsion Conference 6–10 October 2013 Washington, DC IEPC-2013-133 
  15. ^ a b c d e "Mercury Planetary Orbiter - Spacecraft" European Space Agency 20 October 2011 Retrieved 6 February 2014 
  16. ^ a b c "MMO Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter : Objectives" JAXA 2011 Retrieved 7 February 2014 
  17. ^ "Mercury Planetary Orbiter - Instruments" European Space Agency 15 January 2008 Retrieved 6 February 2014 
  18. ^ "Strofio" Discovery Program NASA Retrieved 7 January 2017 
  19. ^ Yamakawa, Hiroshi; Ogawa, Hiroyuki; et al January 2004 "Current status of the BepiColombo/MMO spacecraft design" Advances in Space Research 33 12: 2133–2141 Bibcode:2004AdSpR332133Y doi:101016/S0273-11770300437-X 
  20. ^ a b "Mercury Exploration Project "BepiColombo"" PDF JAXA 2014 Retrieved 6 April 2015 
  21. ^ "BepiColombo's lander" European Space Agency 20 February 2002 Retrieved 7 February 2014 

External linksedit

  • BepiColombo website by the European Space Agency
  • BepiColombo Operations website by the European Space Agency
  • BepiColombo website by JAXA
  • BepiColombo website by JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science
  • BepiColombo website by NASA's Solar System Exploration
  • BepiColombo website by the National Space Science Data Center

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