Arianespace launches BepiColombo, Europe’s first mission to Mercury, for ESA in cooperation with JAXA
Arianespace has successfully launched the BepiColombo spacecraft on its mission to explore Mercury, the smallest and least known terrestrial planet in the Solar System.
Today’s launch, the seventh of the year and the fifth with Ariane 5, took place on Friday, October 19 at 10:45 p.m. (local time) from the Guiana Space Center (CSG), Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, South America.
BepiColombo is an interdisciplinary scientific mission designed to study the planet Mercury, carried out jointly by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
With this launch for ESA, Arianespace continues to guarantee independent and reliable access to space for Europe, while also expanding humankind’s knowledge of the Universe to make life better on Earth.
BepiColombo starts its space journey in Europe’s first mission to Mercury
Conducted jointly by ESA and JAXA, BepiColombo is an interdisciplinary mission designed to send two probes to Mercury, the smallest and least-explored planet in our Solar System, as part of a single composite spacecraft. BepiColombo is Europe’s first mission to Mercury, and will enable a better understanding of the planet’s history, geology, composition, atmosphere and magnetosphere.
BepiColombo, also known as the MCS (Mercury Composite Spacecraft), consists of the MTM, MPO, MMO and MOSIF. The Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) will carry the two orbiters (MPO and MMO) to their destination, while the MMO Sunshield and Interface Structure (MOSIF) will protect the MMO from the Sun and also act as the interface between the MMO and the MPO.
The Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), developed by ESA, will map the planet by focusing on its surface and interior. The Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), developed and built by JAXA, will study its magnetosphere.
The fifth Ariane 5 launch of the year placed BepiColombo into an Earth escape orbit. Arrival at Mercury is planned for late 2025, following a space journey lasting seven years and covering nearly nine billion kilometers. Once the spacecraft reaches its destination, the BepiColombo mission will last for one year, with the possibility of extending its measurements for another year.
A sustained partnership between Arianespace, Europe and Japan
BepiColombo is the 51st Arianespace mission and the 73rd spacecraft launched for ESA, clearly reflecting Arianespace’s continued role in guaranteeing independent and reliable access to space for Europe, while expanding our knowledge of the Universe to make life better on Earth.
BepiColombo also marks the third Arianespace launch of the year for ESA. In addition, the European launch services provider has four more ESA missions to be launched: the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) on Ariane 5, two Galileo launches with Ariane 62, and CHEOPS on a Soyuz launcher.
Arianespace also has established a close relationship with Japan, symbolized by the opening of a Tokyo office in 1986, and the 32 launch contracts signed to date with Japanese operators. Following the launches of DSN-1/Superbird-8 on April 5 and of Horizons 3e on September 25, BepiColombo is the third mission involving Japanese partners to be launched by Arianespace in 2018.
Arianespace boosts emblematic scientific missions
Arianespace has launched 23 major scientific missions since being founded. Today’s flight follows a launch on August 22, which successfully orbited Aeolus, the first space mission designed to measure winds on a global scale.
In early 2021, Arianespace – in the framework of a contract with ESA -will use an Ariane 5 from CSG to orbit the most emblematic scientific mission of the next decade, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) for NASA. The mission’s objectives include detecting the first stars and galaxies in the Universe after the big bang, tracking their evolution over time, and also witnessing the birth of new stars and planetary systems.
Several moments after the orbital injection of the spacecraft, Stéphane Israël, Chief Executive Officer of Arianespace, said: “With our seventh launch of the year, an Ariane 5 has lofted BepiColombo on a seven-year journey to Mercury, covering nearly nine billion kilometers! We are very proud of our 51st mission for ESA, and the 23rd space exploration mission by Arianespace. Europe’s first mission to the planet closest to the Sun, in partnership with the Japanese space agency JAXA, will enable us to better understand the formation and evolution of planets in the inner Solar System. It carries on the tradition of previous successes for space exploration by ESA, with launches performed by Arianespace, and also heralds the next major scientific mission – the James Webb Space Telescope – to be launched by an Ariane 5 in early 2021.
“I would like to congratulate everybody who contributed to the construction of the spacecraft, and especially our long-standing partner Airbus Defense and Space, prime contractor of BepiColombo. “My thanks go to all of our partners who contributed to this latest Ariane 5 success: ArianeGroup and all companies involved in the production of Ariane; ESA, contracting authority for the Ariane program; the French CNES space agency; our ground segment companies; and all staff at the space center. Congratulations to everybody at Arianespace, who contributed to this latest perfect launch that continues to guarantee Europe’s independent access to space… even to some of the farthest points in the Solar System.”
Arianespace uses space to make life better on Earth by providing launch services for all types of satellites into all orbits. It has orbited more than 570 satellites since 1980, using its family of three launchers, Ariane, Soyuz and Vega, from launch sites in French Guiana (South America) and Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Arianespace is headquartered in Evry, near Paris, and has a technical facility at the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, plus local offices in Washington, D.C., Tokyo and Singapore. Arianespace is a subsidiary of ArianeGroup, which holds 74% of its share capital, with the balance held by 17 other shareholders from the European launcher industry.