Japanese and European Spacecraft Heads for Mercury

BepiColombo ESA Mercury mission

Japanese and European Spacecraft Heads for Mercury

The BepiColombo mission, only the third ever to visit Mercury, blasted off from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana aboard an Ariane 5 rocket at 10:45 p.m. local time on October 19 (9:45 p.m. EDT), according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The BepiColombo mission is being carried out jointly by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

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. The mission will also be the first time that two orbiters have been active around Mercury at the same time.

According to ESA, signals from the BepiColombo were received at ESA's control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, confirming that launch was successful.

"BepiColombo will build on the discoveries and questions raised by NASA's Messenger mission to provide the best understanding of Mercury and solar system evolution to date, which in turn will be essential for understanding how planets orbiting close to their stars in exoplanet systems form and evolve, too", he added. Researchers are also hoping to learn more about the formation of the solar system from the data gathered by the BepiColombo mission.

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Meanwhile, the planet's proximity to the sun with the extreme temperature between 180 degree Celsius to over 450 degree Celsius makes the spacecraft trip challenging, the ESA noted. It will study the planet's magnetic field, magnetosphere, interior structure, and surface. The only other spacecraft to get to Mercury was Mariner 10.

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Speaking after the launch, Professor Gunther Hasinger, ESA's director of science, said: "This is truly breathtaking.We have today written history".

JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa, who earlier managed the project, said, "We have high expectations that the ensuing detailed observations of Mercury will help us better understand the environment of the planet, and ultimately, the origin of the Solar System including that of Earth".

ESA and JAXA have been implementing the BepiColombo program since 2008.

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