The next mission to Mercury received a launch date. The launch of the joint European-Japanese mission BepiColombo is scheduled for mid-October.
The BepiColombo mission will be launched aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou in French Guiana no earlier than October 18th at 01:45 GMT. On board will be two spacecraft that will travel together to Mercury: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). In a statement, ESA warned that the date could change due to the latest tests on Kuru, in which case the launch date could be moved to 29 November.
“Our launch campaign at Kourou started very well and we are now aiming for a launch within 90 days,” said Ulrich Reininghaus, ESA's BepiColombo project manager. "We have an incredibly tight schedule, but we are delighted to see our spacecraft assemble for the last time."
The spacecraft will make their first flyby of Mercury in 2022, three years after launch. As they enter their final orbits, they will study the interior of Mercury, its environment and interactions with the flow of charged particles from the Sun, also known as the solar wind.
"During the planetary flybys, many scientific instruments will be used on board, and the" webcams "of the data transfer module will be able to provide simple images before the main scientific camera is launched into orbit of Mercury," added the agency representatives.
Spacecraft will fly many orbits around Earth, Venus and Mercury between 2020 and 2025 before entering their final orbits around Mercury in December 2025. The planned mission will end in 2027, but in the long term it could be extended for at least another year, according to representatives.
Previously, NASA sent the MESSENGER spacecraft to Mercury, which orbited the planet from 2011 to 2015. Among other things, during this mission, zones were discovered in which water ice could remain, protected from the Sun in craters that are forever in the shadow.