Europe’s first mission to Mercury will soon be ready for shipping to the spaceport to begin final preparations for launch.
The mission passed a major review yesterday, meaning that the three BepiColombo spacecraft, along with ground equipment and mission experts, are confirmed to start the move from ESA’s centre in the Netherlands to Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at the end of next month. The launch window is open from 5 October until 29 November.
“It’s been a long and occasionally bumpy road to this point, and there is still plenty to do until we are ready for launch,” says Ulrich Reininghaus, ESA’s BepiColombo project manager, “but we are extremely pleased to finally move our preparations to the launch site, and are grateful to everyone who has made this possible.
“In parallel we are continuing with some long-duration firing tests on a replica transfer module thruster, under space-like conditions, to be best prepared for our journey to Mercury.”
Once at Kourou, an intensive six months of essential preparation are needed, including more review checkpoints.
Work includes dressing the spacecraft in protective insulation to prepare for the harsh space environment and extreme temperatures they will experience operating close to the Sun, attaching and testing the solar wings and their deployment mechanisms, installing the sunshield, fuelling, and connecting the three spacecraft together.
The final weeks will see the spacecraft stack inside the Ariane 5 rocket fairing, and preparing the launch vehicle itself, ready to blast the mission on a seven-year journey around the inner Solar System to investigate Mercury’s mysteries.
Timeline of flybys during BepiColombo's 7.2 year journey to Mercury, starting with the opening of the nearly two month long launch window in October 2018.
A transfer module will carry two science orbiters to the innermost planet, using a combination of solar power, electric propulsion and nine gravity-assist flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury to set it on course.
The two orbiters will make complementary measurements of the innermost planet and its environment from different orbits, from its deep interior to its interaction with the solar wind, to provide the best understanding of Mercury to date, and how the innermost planet of a solar system forms and evolves close to its parent star.
BepiColombo is a joint endeavour between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA. ESA is providing the Mercury Transfer Module, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the sunshield and interface structure, and JAXA is providing the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter.
The spacecraft and ground equipment, along with personnel, will start transferring to Kourou towards the end of next month. The launch window opens on 5 October until 29 November 2018.
This montage of artist’s impressions represents a selection of new images released today showcasing the spacecraft elements in different situations during the mission’s seven-year cruise to the innermost planet.
Some images highlight the moments following launch on the Ariane 5, while others feature flybys at Earth, Venus and Mercury. BepiColombo will fly by Earth once, Venus twice and Mercury six times, using the planets’ gravity to help set course, before entering orbit around Mercury.
BepiColombo is Europe’s first mission to the innermost planet and comprises three spacecraft. The ESA-built Mercury Transfer Module will carry the two science orbiters – ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter – to Mercury. After arriving at Mercury, the trio will separate in stages – some of these moments are also visualised in the new artist’s views.
Once at Mercury, the two science orbiters will make complementary observations of the planet and its environment, from its deep interior to interaction with the solar wind, to provide the best understanding of the planet to date and how the innermost planet of a solar system forms and evolves close to its parent star.
BepiColombo is a joint endeavour between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA.
The views of Mercury in this montage are based on imagery from NASA's Mariner 10 and Messenger missions.
BEPICOLOMBO PLASMA SIMULATION
Title BepiColombo plasma simulation
Released 23/04/2018 8:00 am
Copyright ESA/Félicien Filleul
When the Mercury Transfer Module of the BepiColombo mission fires its electric propulsion thrusters an ion beam is extracted. This is created through the ionization of xenon propellant, generating the charged particles that can be accelerated further using an electric field.
Together with gravity assist flybys at Earth, Venus and Mercury, the thrust from the ion beam provides the means to travel to the innermost planet.
After escaping the pull of Earth’s gravity with the Ariane 5 launcher, the spacecraft is on an orbit around the Sun. The transfer module then has to use its thrusters to brake against the mighty pull of the Sun’s gravity. It also has to tune the shape of its orbit in order to make a series of nine gravity assist flybys at the planets before finally delivering the mission’s two science spacecraft into Mercury orbit.
This image is an excerpt from a supercomputer simulation that models the flow of plasma around the spacecraft just after the high energy ion beam is switched on. An outline of the composite spacecraft with its extended solar arrays is included for reference.
The simulation tracks the particles in the beam as well as those that diffuse around the spacecraft, which are created by the interaction of the high energy beam ions with the neutral xenon atoms that also flow out of the thruster. It shows the density of the plasma flowing around the spacecraft and its evolution: red represents high density, blue is low density (see animation for detailed scale).
Although the animation is several seconds long it has been slowed down, representing a mere eight milliseconds of real time – the time necessary for the plasma to reach a steady state.
The simulation was performed to demonstrate that the plasma produced by the thruster is not damaging to the spacecraft: its materials, including solar arrays or instruments, for example, or to the electric propulsion system itself. The simulations also confirmed there are no spurious or dangerous charging events.
Inflight measurements will verify the simulation results and help improve ways in which the generated plasma, spacecraft and space environment interactions can be better modelled.
BepiColombo is a joint endeavour between ESA and JAXA. After their seven-year interplanetary journey, the two science orbiters – the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter – will start their main mission to provide the most in-depth study of mysterious Mercury to date.
The spacecraft begin transferring to Europe’s spaceport in Kourou this week, where an intensive period of preparations will ready the mission for launch later this year.
BepiColombo arrives at launch site for final pre-flight processing
After years of development, build, and testing, BepiColombo is arriving at Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, in South America for final preflight integration and checkouts. The joint mission between Europe and Japan is now in the home stretch of ground processing ahead of launch. The mission is slated to begin No Earlier Than 5 October 2018 with launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket that will send Bepicolombo on a seven-year journey to reach the planet Mercury.
BepiColombo arrives at launch site:
The first two of four arrivals of the constituent parts of BepiColombo, a dual spacecraft mission, at its launch site marks a major turning point in the processing campaign leading to liftoff later this year.
The first two delivery flights arrived in Kourou, French Guiana, this week aboard the Antonov An-124 quad-jet. The first flight delivered the Magnetosphere Orbiter’s Sun Shield and Interface Structure on 24 April. The second An-124 flight arrived safely this morning (Friday, 27 April) at 08:37 local time (11:37 UTC) carrying BepiColombo’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter from ESA.
The third and fourth flights will deliver the Mercury Transfer Module from ESA, the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter from JAXA, and the final elements of ground handling and processing equipment needed at the launch site.
Delivery of the spacecraft to the Guiana Space Centre followed years of design, build, and test operations, including a major mission review on 8 March 2018. “It’s been a long and occasionally bumpy road to this point, and there is still plenty to do until we are ready for launch,” said Ulrich Reininghaus, ESA’s BepiColombo project manager, “but we are extremely pleased to finally move our preparations to the launch site and are grateful to everyone who has made this possible.”
With portions of BepiColombo coming together at the launch site, an intensive six-month process will now begin, including major final review checkpoints, installing the insulation around the spacecraft to protect them from the harsh space environment and extreme temperatures they will experience while operating close to the Sun, attaching and testing the solar wings and their deployment mechanisms, installing the sun shield, fueling the spacecrafts for launch, and integrating the three constituent parts together.
Once these critical tasks are complete, BepiColombo will be enclosed inside the Ariane 5 payload fairing, the final major element in preparing the spacecrafts themselves for launch.
The launch window for BepiColombo opens on 5 October and closes on 29 November 2018 – a window designed to ensure the trajectory and multiple planetary flybys and gravity assists needed to eventually insert BepiColombo into orbit of Mercury can be achieved via planetary alignments of Earth, Venus, and Mercury.
Assuming a launch in October 2018, BepiColombo will perform the following flyby / planetary encounter sequence leading to orbit insertion at Mercury on 5 December 2025:
6 April 2020
First (and only) Earth flyby
12 October 2020
First Venus flyby
11 August 2021
Second (and final) 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
During the course of its mission, BepiColombo will study the origin and evolution of a planet close to its parent star; study Mercury as a planet, including its forms, interior, structure, geology, composition, and craters; as well as study Mercury’s magnetosphere and its structure and dynamics.
The mission will also investigate Mercury’s exosphere’s composition and dynamics, including generation and escape; investigate the origin of Mercury’s magnetic field; and seek to verify Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity by measuring parameters of the parameterized post-Newtonian formalism with high accuracy.
Parameterized post-Newtonian formalism is a version of post-Newtonian formalism that explicitly details the parameters in which a general theory of gravity can differ from Newtonian gravity and is used to compare Newtonian and Einsteinian gravity in which the gravitational field is weak and generated by objects moving slowly compared to the speed of light.
The study of Mercury’s magnetic field will be accomplished via joint observations of the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter during their one Earth year (4.1 Mercurian years), in-orbit primary mission of Mercury.
BepiColombo carries enough propellant to potentially be extended for an additional year, resulting in two Earth years of observation around Mercury – or 8.2 Mercurian years.
ESA´s BepiColombo takes to the Air
Airbus-built Mercury-Mission is on its way to Kourou Launch Base
The first elements of the BepiColombo hardware were loaded into an Antonov An-124 cargo plane
After years of development the BepiColombo spacecraft which will be heading to Mercury from autumn 2018 has at last taken to the air. On 23 April 2018 the first elements of the BepiColombo hardware were loaded into an Antonov An-124 cargo plane for transport from Amsterdam´s Schiphol Airport to the European Spaceport Kourou in French Guiana. After a fuelling stop in the Azores Islands the Antonov will arrive early on 24 April. This Antonov flight was the first of four flights needed to transport the spacecraft and all handling and test equipment to Kourou. The flights are supported by three transports by ship for further items.
Having completed a comprehensive test programme at European Space Agency´s Technology Centre ESTEC in Noordwijk (The Netherlands) the BepiColombo spacecraft is almost ready for launch. Between May and October 2018 the final launch preparations will be performed so that the spacecraft can then be launched aboard an Ariane 5 ECA.
BepiColombo is Europe's first mission to Mercury. It will set off in autumn 2018 (launch window is open from 5 October to 29 November) on a journey to the smallest and least explored terrestrial planet in our Solar System. When it arrives at Mercury in late 2025, it will endure temperatures in excess of 350 °C and gather data during its one year nominal mission, with a possible 1-year extension.
BepiColombo is an interdisciplinary mission performed in a partnership between ESA (European Space Agency) and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). The BepiColombo mission involves the delivery of the MPO (Mercury Planetary Orbiter) and the MMO (Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter) to complementary orbits around the planet Mercury. JAXA provides the MMO, whilst Airbus is prime contractor for ESA, providing the MPO and all other spacecraft hardware. The scientific payload is provided by national agencies.
MIO – Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter’s New Name
National Research and Development Agency Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
JAXA selected MIO as new name for the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) to be launched this Japanese fiscal year. Selection process is based on public response to the MMO renaming project made during the designated correspondence period, February 20 to April 9, 2018. Following are the details:
1 The New Name: MIO
2 Namesake and Background
The definition of the word mio in the original Japanese is a waterway or fairway. It is a fitting name denoting how far the MMO mission has come, navigating its course past important research and development milestones. It also carries the connotation of wishing the spacecraft a safe journey.
Historically, markers called mio-tsukushi were posted to guide boats sailing at rivers and sea. In traditional Japanese poetry, mio-tsukushiinterchangeably means working hard without giving up. This describes the diligent and tenacious sprit of the MMO project team who never ceases to challenge.
The spacecraft will travel through the solar wind, a continuous stream of plasma that the Sun emits in the Mercury’s magnetosphere. The Mercury’s magnetospheric interference constantly affects the state of the solar wind in orbit. It conjures up the image of a sea vessel underway with its bow heading forward.
Mio is easy to say for many, especially those who do not speak Japanese.
Total number of correspondents: 6,494 19 suggested Mio. 3 did Mio-Tsukushi.
4 The Selection Committee Members
Hajime Hayakawa, Project Manager, BepiColombo project team/Professor at the Department of Solar System Sciences, the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science
Go Murakami, Project Scientist, BepiColombo project team/Assistant Professor at the Department of Solar System Sciences, the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science
Chisato Ikuta, Director for Education and Public Outreach at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science
Yasunori Matogawa, Emeritus at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science
Naoko Takeuchi, Cartoonist
5 Acknowledgments by Hajime Hayakawa
I thank all who responded for your interest in the MMO. We are at the start of the mission with a long way ahead. I hope MIO will bring to us a lot of discoveries about the Mercury.
JAXA will send a gift to all who 19 proposers of Mio no sooner than July.
Mission Overview: MIO and the International Mercury Exploration BepiColombo Mission
BepiColombo, an ESA-JAXA joint mission to explore Mercury, comprises of two orbiters - the MPO, Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the MIO, Mercury Magnetosphere Orbiter. MPO aims at elucidating the surface and internal composition of Mercury. The MIO mission is observing the planet's magnetic field and magnetosphere. JAXA is in charge of the development of the MIO spacecraft and controlling its operation at the target orbit, as Japan is adept at observations of magnetic field and magnetosphere. ESA controls BepiColombo launch and flight to Mercury and orbital insertions. The development and operation of the MPO is also part of the mission performed by ESA. Ariane 5 will launch the tandem satellites. After entering the planet's orbit, detached orbiters are scheduled for approximately year-long observation mission, which both agencies will cooperatively engage in.
Payload preparations advance for Arianespace’s Ariane 5 flight with BepiColombo
The multi-month payload preparation phase is making progress for the upcoming BepiColombo mission to planet Mercury, which will be launched later this year on an Arianespace Ariane 5 flight from the Spaceport.
BepiColombo was developed in a joint effort of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). It comprises three spacecraft modules and a sunshield, which were delivered along with ground support equipment and other essential hardware during a series of cargo flights in April and May.
Following their arrival in French Guiana and subsequent transfer by road to the Spaceport’s S5 payload preparation facility, the modules – including the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) and Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) – were removed from their protective shipping containers for inspection. Afterward, they were switched on and battery tested, then fitted with mechanical and electrical ground support systems.
Deep space exploration for BepiColombo
Additional activities to be performed include attaching solar wings to the three modules and testing their deployment mechanisms, dressing the spacecraft in protective insulation, installing the sunshield, conducting pressure tests, fueling and integration.
The BepiColombo mission is designed to study and understand Mercury’s composition, geophysics, atmosphere, magnetosphere and history. After arriving at Mercury in late 2025, BepiColombo will have a nominal one-year duration with the possibility for an extension.
Ariane 5’s launch of BepiColombo – which gets its name from Italian Professor Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo – is designated VA245 in Arianespace’s launcher family numbering system.