Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
. 24/7 Space News .




Subscribe to our free daily newsletters



MERCURY RISING
The BepiColombo spacecraft is ready to solve the many mysteries of Mercury
by David Rothery for The Conversation UK
London, UK (The Conversation) Jul 13, 2017


The spacecraft will cruise for years before it reaches Mercury. ESA, CC BY-SA

The 1.65 billion euro BepiColombo spacecraft is now being unstacked for final tests after being displayed in its launch configuration to the world's press at the European Space Agency's Space Technology and Research Centre. The six-metre high assembly will soon be shipped to Kourou in French Guyana where it is anticipated to launch in October 2018.

This is the culmination of nearly two decades of work by a team of highly motivated scientists and engineers, many of whom I have come to know through my own role on the mission.

BepiColombo is an impressive mission, jointly owned by the European and Japanese space agencies (ESA and JAXA). A European "ion-drive unit" (MTM, Mercury Transfer Module) will propel the assembly during its seven-year cruise before achieving orbit about the sun's nearest planet.

It will fly close past Mercury after less than three years, but will have to continue orbiting the sun, making five more flybys of Mercury - using its gravitational attraction to help it match velocity with the planet so that it can be captured into orbit about the planet itself.

Once in orbit, the Japanese component of the mission, the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, MMO, will be set spinning (for stability) and be released into an eccentric orbit to study the magnetic field, dust and environment of charged particles surrounding the planet. The European orbiter, known as the Mercury Planetary Orbiter, will then lower itself into a more circular orbit optimised for study of the planet's surface and interior.

Doing science in a pizza oven
The technological challenges of then operating the two vehicles in orbit extend far beyond the sheer "rocket science" of getting there. Mercury is three times closer to the sun than the Earth is, so the spacecraft will be heated by direct sunlight nearly ten times stronger than that experienced above the Earth's atmosphere.

Worse, when flying above the day-side of planet, the orbiter will be baked on its underside by "pizza-oven heat" from Mercury's searing 400 C surface only 500km below.

Parts of the spacecraft's insulated outer surface may reach 380C at times, but the sensitive electronics inside need to be kept below about -40C to function properly. Part of the solution has been to fit the orbiter with the splendidly-named "cold finger" - essentially a metal rod which conducts heat from its innards out to where it can be dumped into space via a "venetian blind" radiator panel.

The spacecraft's orientation will be controlled at all times, so that the slats of the panel will never allow direct sunlight or the radiation from the hot planet to fall on the radiator surface.

This effort scarcely needs to be justified to scientists who are greatly puzzled by what the two previous missions to Mercury - Mariner 10 (1970s) and Messenger (2011-15) - have found.

NASA's MESSENGER mission revealed that the planet's surface is surprisingly rich in "volatile" elements such as sulphur, chlorine, sodium and potassium. We would expect these to have been preferentially lost during the hot or violent birth that a planet so close to the sun should have had. Add this to the fact that Mercury's rocky shell is strangely thin compared to the Earth's and overlies a disproportionately large iron core, and its very nature poses a conundrum.

It may have originated much further from the sun than we now find it, and suffered a rock-stripping collision during inward migration. Other questions include why part of Mercury's core is still molten and able to generate a magnetic field and why the planet shows so much evidence of past volcanic eruptions.

Cost and benefits
Whenever there is a report about a space mission it is usual to see comments from readers bemoaning the waste of money, arguing it ought to have been spent on relieving suffering here on Earth. We can all sympathise with the sentiment, but to single out the costs of space research for censure in this regard lacks a sense of proportion.

BepiColombo has cost ESA and JAXA about 1.65 billion euro between them, not bad for such a complex project, and individual national funding agencies may have spent about the same total again for salaries and instrument development.

All this money has been spent on Earth, helping the economy - it hasn't been somehow shot into space and lost. And in any case new space technology has been shown to open the way for developments such as prostate cancer "sniffer devices" and much more.

Also, let's not forget that our civilisation disposes of far more of its surplus wealth on entertainment and what might be termed "unnecessary fripperies" than on space research. For example, the annual budgets of the four largest Formula One motor racing teams exceed the total cost to ESA and JAXA for the BepiColombo mission, as do yearly global sales of lipstick.

So I'm looking ahead to BepiColombo's findings with a clear conscience. There are many things it can tell us about our part of the solar system. And, perhaps most importantly, it could inspire future generations to take an interest in science.

Republished from The Conversation UK under Creative Commons licence.

The Conversation

MERCURY RISING
Spacecraft unveiled for first Europe mission to Mercury
The Hague (AFP) July 6, 2017
European and Japanese scientists Thursday proudly unveiled the BepiColombo spacecraft ahead of its seven-year journey to Mercury, to explore one of the Solar System's most enigmatic planets. Set for launch in 2018, BepiColombo will be the European Space Agency's (ESA) first mission to the closest rock to the Sun. The craft has an unusual design, comprising a "stacked aircraft" carrying t ... read more

Related Links
BepiColombo at ESA
News Flash at Mercury
Mars News and Information at MarsDaily.com
Lunar Dreams and more


Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.

SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once


credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly


paypal only

Comment using your Disqus, Facebook, Google or Twitter login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

MERCURY RISING
NASA Awards Mission Systems Operations Contract

Counting calories in space

NASA Offers Space Station as Catalyst for Discovery in Washington

As the world embraces space, the 50 year old Outer Space Treaty needs adaptation

MERCURY RISING
Hypersonic Travel Possibility Heats Up Massively After New Material Discovery

ISRO Develops Ship-Based Antenna System to Track Satellite Launches

Aerojet Rocketdyne tests Advanced Electric Propulsion System

After two delays, SpaceX launches broadband satellite for IntelSat

MERCURY RISING
Curiosity Mars Rover Begins Study of Ridge Destination

For Moratorium on Sending Commands to Mars, Blame the Sun

Tributes to wetter times on Mars

Opportunity will spend three weeks at current location due to Solar Conjunction

MERCURY RISING
China develops sea launches to boost space commerce

Chinese satellite Zhongxing-9A enters preset orbit

Chinese Space Program: From Setback, to Manned Flights, to the Moon

Chinese Rocket Fizzles Out, Puts Other Launches on Hold

MERCURY RISING
LISA Pathfinder: bake, rattle and roll

ASTROSCALE Raises a Total of $25 Million in Series C Led by Private Companies

Korean Aerospace offices raided in anti-corruption probe

Iridium Poised to Make Global Maritime Distress and Safety System History

MERCURY RISING
Japanese engineers develop headset-less VR system

Spacepath Communications Announces Innovative Frequency Converter Systems

Sorting complicated knots

Nature-inspired material uses liquid reinforcement

MERCURY RISING
Molecular Outflow Launched Beyond Disk Around Young Star

Big, shape-shifting animals from the dawn of time

A New Search for Extrasolar Planets from the Arecibo Observatory

More to Life Than the Habitable Zone

MERCURY RISING
Juno spots Jupiter's Great Red Spot

New Horizons Video Soars over Pluto's Majestic Mountains and Icy Plains

New evidence in support of the Planet Nine hypothesis

Juno Completes Flyby over Jupiter's Great Red Spot




Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News






The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement