About BepiColombo – Mission to Mercury
The entire world has been talking about the ‘Mars Mission’. Mars, which is next to earth and 4th planet from the Sun has been highly and much talked about. While among all this Mars quest, some European scientists in collaboration with Japan decided to think differently and decided to uncover the secrets of another planet which not many talk about- Mercury.
Being the closest to Sun, it gets really hot there. Its proximity with the Sun makes it really challenging for space-crafts to survive the immense heat. Till date, only two spacecraft have visited the planet: NASA’s Mariner 10, which flew past three times in 1974–5 and returned the first close-up images of the planet, and NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, which performed three flybys (two in 2008 and one in 2009) before entering orbit around the planet in March 2011.
The question might arise as to why do we even need to carry out this mission to Mercury ( BeliColombo mission) ?
One, we must not leave any planet unexplored should we desire to know about the entire universe. Second, which is quite important, is that if we know the history of formation of Mercury, we know a lot many things about the formation of our Solar System as well given that Mercury is the first planet of our Solar system. We aren’t able to gather sufficient information about Mercury from our planet; hence, we must collect further information from the smallest planet Mercury, itself.
If a common man must know what exactly this mission is all about, you have to dig in deep into scientific dictionaries and rack brains about various terminologies.
This mission will involve two separate space-crafts that would orbit the planet. The two collaborators, European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will build the main spacecraft Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) respectively.
MPO will study the planet surface and its composition while the MMO will study the space around the planet up to the planet’s magnetic field region, called the magnetosphere. The entire launch and journey of the mission will be carried out by Mercury Composite Spacecraft (MCS) which will include two other parts as well along with MPO and MMO.
Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) will provide solar-electric propulsion (in layman’s term, the required push) while the MMO Sunshield and Interface Structure (MOSIF) will provide thermal protection in the extremely heated environment.
The launch of BepiColombo, which was earlier scheduled for July 2016, due to unavoidable bottlenecks of procurement of critical units and delays of certain payloads has been shifted to 27th January 2017. The pre-launch will start in December 2016.
BepiColombo will return to Earth’s vicinity in July 2018, cross Venus in 2019 and 2020, and then receive five gravity assists from Mercury itself between 2020 and 2023 and finally reach Mercury in January 2024!