Next stop Mercury. Soaring through the perils of space the BepiColombo is on a seven-year journey to one of Earth’s rocky neighbors, Mercury.
Though the spacecraft has not made contact with the planet yet, the BepiColombo is already making headlines for its technological developments towards its destination.
Hitting a major milestone on its journey, on December 2nd of this year, the BepiColombo used its powerful ion thrusters to make its first important maneuver, a task that took countless years to perfect and get right. So why is this important?
In short, with the ion thrusters ignited this means that “the most powerful electric-propulsion engine system ever to explore space is now up and running.”
For the uninitiated, ion thruster propulsion systems use beams of ions or electrically charged atoms or molecules for travel.
The technology itself is relatively new, but as seen already, it has proven to have a host of benefits for spacecraft in the future. Ion thrusters can deliver one order of magnitude greater propellant efficient than your standard engines. Yet, ion thrusters can have very low accelerations compared to rockets.
On the Way to Mercury
Launched successfully this year on October 19, the BepiColombo has begun a series of 22 long burns that will reach its destination. Nevertheless, that journey is extremely long and encompasses a total distance of 5.6 billion miles or 9 billion kilometers.
Expected to reach there in 2025, the BepiColombo is Europe’s first mission to Mercury, an area that is one of the least explored places in the solar system.
As a joint mission with ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the mission comprises of two spacecraft and the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).
A new set of images from the #BepiColombo#selfie cam onboard @ESA_MTM show the first in-space views of the front side of @ESA_Bepi's high-gain antenna. The pics were taken during a special set of movements to investigate the antenna pointing. Full story: https://t.co/s1mekfWO6Xpic.twitter.com/Zvey7SXqOz— ESA Science (@esascience) December 7, 2018
While on Mercury the BepiColombo will have to brave temperatures as hot as 350 Degrees Celsius as well as the surrounding unpredictable environment.
The BepiColombo will host a series of objectives like:
-understanding the composition of the solar nebula and the formation of the planetary system,
-understanding whether the core of Mercury is liquid or solid;
-and why does such a small planet possess an intrinsic magnetic field, while Venus, Mars and the Moon do not have any?
Stay tuned for more details about the BepiColombo and its journey to Mercury.