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Arianespace launches BepiColombo to explore Mercury
Lift-off for BepiColombo. © 2018 ESA-CNES-Arianespace/Optique Vidéo du CSG - JM Guillon

Arianespace launches BepiColombo to explore Mercury

In its fifth mission of the year, Ariane 5 successfully launched BepiColombo on its way toward the solar system’s smallest and least-explored terrestrial planet on 19th October.

Arianespace's heavy-lift Ariane 5 successfully launched BepiColombo – Europe’s first mission to Mercury, organized in cooperation with Japan – on its way toward the solar system’s smallest and least-explored terrestrial planet on 19th October. It was the fifth Ariane 5 mission of 2018.

Ascending from the Spaceport’s ELA-3 launch complex at 10:45:28 p.m. local time in French Guiana – the planned precise moment of liftoff – Ariane 5 lofted its passenger during a flight lasting just under 27 minutes, with the multi-segment BepiColombo spacecraft deployed into an Earth escape orbit.

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. Mercury also is known as the “Swift Planet” because its orbital period around the Sun of 87.97 days is the shortest of all the planets in the solar system.

The BepiColombo mission is being carried out jointly by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). After arriving in late 2025, the spacecraft – built under the industrial leadership of Airbus – will examine the peculiarities of Mercury’s internal structure and magnetic field generation, as well as how the planet interacts with the sun and solar wind.

With a liftoff mass calculated at 4,081kg, BepiColombo consists of two orbiters: the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) and the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO); as well as two additional elements: the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM), and the Magnetospheric Orbiter Sunshield and Interface Structure (MOSIF).

BepiColombo is scheduled for a one-year nominal mission at Mercury, with the possibility for a one-year extension. It was named after Italian mathematician and engineer Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo, who was known for his work related to Mercury.

Next up for Arianespace is Europe’s Metop-C polar-orbiting meteorological satellite for the EUMETSAT satellite agency, scheduled for launch on a Soyuz launcher in early November.

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