Mercury mission to explore origin of solar system

20 October, 2018, 16:52 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • An Ariane 5 lifts off from its launchpad in Kourou at the European Space Center in French Guiana on Oct. 19 2018.
JODY AMIET  
AFP  Getty Images

BepiColombo's long journey begins from the European spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana, where liftoff on an Ariane 5 rocket is scheduled for 6:45 p.m.

"We really need to understand Mercury better", said David Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at the UK Open University.

First, however, the suite of instruments on board the Ariane 5 rocket will have to travel seven years and nine million kilometers to reach their destination.

While MPO will go into an approximately 400 x 1500 km mapping orbit around Mercury, MMO will enter a highly elliptical orbit to study the planet's enigmatically strong magnetic field.

But there will also be the sun's enormous gravity to deal with, and ion thrusters will be used to constantly push back against the pull of our star.

Magnetic fields are generated by a liquid core but given its size, Mercury's should have grown cold and solid by now, as did Mars.

Scientists will be eager to explore previously discovered evidence of water ice on the planet. The probes are equipped with special insulation to cope with temperatures varying from 430 C on the side facing the sun, and minus 180 C in Mercury's shadow. Moreover, some of the instruments created to study Mercury in a particular way can be used in a completely different way at Venus, which has a thick atmosphere compared with Mercury's exposed surface.

The answers they get will shed new light on the origins and evolution of the solar system.

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"The planet is whipped by solar winds", a constant torrent of ionised particles bombarding the surface at 500 kilometres per second, said Bousquet. "It is thanks to the global collaboration and the decades of efforts and expertise of everyone involved in the design and building of this incredible machine, that we are now on our way to investigating planet Mercury's mysteries", an ESA statement quoted Worner as saying.

Ariane 5 will be lofting estimated payload mass of 4,241 kg from ELA-3, with spacecraft separation expected 27 minutes into the flight. Europe's Mercury Planetary Orbiter will focus on the surface of the planet, analyzing terrain, surface composition, and the layers of the planet beneath the crust.

It has built one of the two orbiters, with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) providing the other.

Compared to Mars, Venus, and Saturn, Mercury has barely been explored.

The mission will also look for tectonic activity, and seek to understand why spectroscopic observations show no iron even if it is thought to be one of the planet's major component elements.

NASA's Mariner 10 did three flybys in 1974 and 1975, providing the first up-close images.

BepiColombo is made up of two different spacecraft with two very different jobs.

The European Space Agency's Mercury Planet Orbiter (MPO), which will survey the planet's surface and probe its chemistry, was built by satellite company Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage.

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