Carried out jointly between ESA and JAXA, the BepiColombo spacecraft will conduct an interdisciplinary mission to Mercury, the smallest and least explored planet in our solar system. The purpose of Flight VA245 is to inject BepiColombo into an Earth escape trajectory, allowing its European and Japanese probes to reach Mercury after a seven-year voyage through space.
Missions to Mercury already have been undertaken in the past, including NASA’s Mariner 10, which revealed the first images of the planet in 1974-1975; and Messenger, which provided new but also unexpected data and images when it went into orbit around Mercury between 2011 and 2015. However, BepiColombo will be the first-ever European mission to Mercury providing measurements to study and understand the planet’s history, composition, geophysics, exosphere and magnetosphere.
As the nearest planet to the Sun, exploring Mercury is key to acquiring knowledge of how terrestrial planets originate and evolve, as well as to understand how conditions supporting life arose in the solar system, and possibly elsewhere.
Named after the Italian mathematician and engineer Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo, the mission comprises dual science orbiters: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), developed by ESA to map the planet by focusing on its surface and interior; and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) – developed and built by JAXA to investigate its magnetosphere by exploring the environment.
The Mercury Composite Spacecraft (MCS) consists of the MTM, MPO, MMO, and MOSIF. The Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) will carry the two orbiters (MPO and MMO) to their destination and the MMO Sunshield and Interface Structure (MOSIF) will provide thermal protection.
The expected arrival is scheduled in late 2025, with BepiColombo to be gravity captured after jettisoning the MTM. Its descent into Mercury orbit will be performed by chemical propulsion engine within the MPO.
Once at Mercury, BepiColombo will endure temperatures in excess of 350°C. It will then conduct a one-year nominal mission, with a possible one-year extension.