BepiColombo Spacecraft Starts Journey to Least-Explored Planet Mercury

BepiColombo Spacecraft Starts Journey to Least-Explored Planet Mercury

New journey to a new world; a European-Japanese BepiColombo spacecraft starts seven-year journey to Mercury to probe the solar system’s smallest and least-explored planet.

The BepiColombo Spacecraft mission, only the third ever to visit Mercury, from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana aboard an Ariane 5 rocket at 10:45 p.m. local time on Friday (0145 GMT on Saturday), according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

“Launching BepiColombo is a huge milestone for ESA (the European Space Agency) and JAXA, and there will be many great successes to come,” ESA Director General Jan Woerner said in a statement. “Beyond completing the challenging journey, this mission will return a huge bounty of science.”

The reason of the lack visiting to Mercury is the planet’s proximity to the sun (less than 60 million kilometers (37.3 million miles) away compared with almost Earth’s 150 million kilometers) which makes any trip there stimulating and challenging.

Surface temperatures on the planet can reach highs of over 400 Celsius (752F) during the day and drop to minus 170C (minus 338F) at night.

In 1973, NASA’s Mariner 10 probe launched to Mercury, mapped around 45 percent of the planet’s surface, and its MESSENGER mission took off over three decades later in 2004 to complete the survey.

According to “BepiColombo, named after 20th century Italian mathematician and Engineer Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo, will slingshot off the Earth’s gravitational field one-and-a-half years after launch before picking up speed on its journey. It will fly past Venus twice and then fly by Mercury six times before slipping into its orbit around December 2025”.

The mission was accepted in November 2009, after years in proposal and planning as part of the European Space Agency’s Horizon 2000+ program.  It is the last mission of the program to be launched.