The BepiColombo spacecraft is due to be launched from the European space port at Kourou in French Guiana, at around 2.45am tomorrow morning.
"We have overcome many hurdles over the years, and the teams are delighted to see BepiColombo now on the road to intriguing planet Mercury". ESA At that time it will make a "gravity-assist" flyby-using the Earth's gravity to swing itself inwards towards Venus.
The Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, made by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will study the region of space around the planet that is influenced by its magnetic field.
This mission aims to determine some basic information about Mercury: how it formed, how it changed over the solar system's history, what the interior of Mercury looks like, and even if the planet is still volcanically or geologically active today.
When it arrives, BepiColombo will release two probes - Bepi and Mio - that will independently investigate the surface and magnetic field of Mercury.
Only two other spacecraft have ever visited Mercury and only one of them went into orbit. Mercury's almost non-existent atmosphere also means that the planet itself will be giving off extremely hot temperatures, pinning the obiters in a "heat sandwich" for most of their lifespan.
"BepiColombo will build on the discoveries and questions raised by NASA'sMessenger 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.
A combination of spacecraft will be launched together, with the Mercury Composite Spacecraft (MCS) consisting of two orbiters: MMO, MPO; as well as two additional elements: MTM, the Magnetospheric Orbiter Sunshield and Interface Structure (MOSIF). A maximum of two of the four xenon-propelled ion thrusters will be employed at any one time during the long journey; these will be used on more than 700 days in total, up to four months of which without interruption. Eastern, marking the beginning of a 9-billion kilometer trip to the closest planet to the Sun.
ESA member states nearly cancelled BepiColombo after the mission, which began in 2000, grew too large to fit in a Soyuz rocket, requiring a more expensive Ariane 5 to continue. The project cost was $1.3 million SpaceX has called the name of the first space tourist, who circled the moon.
Here, the BepiColombo spacecraft stack is being hoisted up inside the Final Assembly Building, in preparation to be mounted on the Ariane 5 launch vehicle.
The craft must constantly fight the Sun's gravitational pull to achieve orbital insertion around Mercury. This will make it hard to place a spacecraft into the Mercury's orbit.
NASA's Mariner 10 probe, launched to Mercury in 1973, mapped around 45 percent of the planet's surface, and its MESSENGER mission took off over three decades later in 2004 to complete the survey.
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