Feeds

ESA targets Mercury with BepiColombo mission

Joining forces with JAXA

High performance access to file storage

The European Space Agency (ESA) has given the go ahead for a mission to explore Mercury, the inner-most planet of our solar system. The mission was formally adopted at the agency's Science Programme Committee (SPC) meeting last Friday.

BepiColombo is a joint mission between ESA and JAXA, the Japanese space agency. It will consist of two satellites, one for planetary investigations and the other for mapping the world's magnetic field.

It will travel using a combination of very low thrust and gravity assist, as demonstrated by the SMART-1 mission to the moon. The craft carrying the two probes will use the moon, Earth, and Venus to gain speed, as well as its own ion propulsion engine.

Japan is heading up the design and construction of the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), while ESA has taken charge of the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO). The MMO will carry five instruments, and the MPO will carry 11.

Both orbiters will be truly collaborative works: four of the five MMO instruments will be provided by Japan, but are likely to have European contributions to the technology. Russia will be providing one of the instruments for the planetary orbiter.

Although plenty of probes have been dispatched to Mars and Venus, relatively little is known about Mercury. Mariner 10 flew past the planet three times in 1974 and sent back images of just 45 per cent of its surface. It is a place of extremes: fiercely hot on the side facing the sun - it can reach 470°C on the surface - but bitterly cold on the dark side.

Beyond that, we know Mercury is the only planet aside from Earth with a global magnetic field, but little else.

Pressing as the need for new data is, scientists are not going to find out more for a while. BepiColumbo won't even leave Earth until 2014, and will arrive in orbit around Mercury in 2019.

Part of the reason for the long ramp up to launch is the difficulty of constructing instruments that can withstand the planet's extreme conditions. Not only is the planet baked by the sun's heat, it radiates that heat back into space as well, making orbit a hostile place.

Meanwhile, NASA's Messenger probe is heading towards the smallest planet, and will arrive in 2011. It is also set to study its composition, and map its surface and magnetic field. It will also investigate the possibility of ice deposits at the planet's poles. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
IBM Hursley Park: Where Big Blue buries the past, polishes family jewels
How the internet of things has deep roots in the English countryside
Video games make you NASTY AND VIOLENT
Especially if you are bad at them and keep losing
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Honeybee boffin STINGS OWN WEDDING TACKLE... for SCIENCE
Not the worst place to be stung, says one man
India's GPS alternative launches second satellite
Closed satnav system due to have all seven birds aloft by 2016
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.