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STATES CHRONICLE – ESA is preparing for the first European mission to explore the closest planet to the sun. Both European and Japanese scientists worked on the spacecraft which is soon to launch for Mercury. BepiColombo is scheduled to leave Earth in 2018, and should reach Mercury in 2025.
BepiColombo comes with an unusual design. The spacecraft has two orbiters, one being European and one Japanese. When it reaches Mercury, they will separate and start performing two opposite orbits around the planet.
NASA had already sent a spacecraft to Mercury, called Messenger. Now, ESA aims to continue where that orbiter left off, and plunge even deeper into the mysteries of the faraway planet. They developed this project together with the Japanese agency JAXA, several firms from both EU and Japan, and 33 companies from 33 European countries.
The project is in progress for several years, and the launch of the spacecraft has already been delayed for several years. After spending over $1.48 billion, scientists hope they will finally be able to launch BepiColombo next year in October.
Mercury, one of the toughest rocky planets
Exploring Mercury is no easy mission. The planet is one of the most extreme of all rocky planets, with surface temperatures varying from +842 to -292 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, it is the only rocky planet besides Earth which has a magnetic field.
However, this field is not enough to protect it from the Sun’s strong radiation. Since it is orbiting only 36 million miles away from the star, the radiation is much too powerful. Therefore, without a shield, the conditions are unsuitable for the survival of any life forms.
Studying Mercury from Earth is almost impossible, since it is much too closer to the Sun, and the brightness prevents scientists from having a complete view of the planet. Also, getting a spacecraft to orbit it is hard due to the huge gravity of the Sun.
This is why it was so tough to design BepiColombo to cope with such extreme conditions. The spacecraft will try to approach Mercury as much as possible, and collect information on its magnetic field, how it is affected by solar storms, and the internal structure of the planet.
Image Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory