All appears to be fine with BepiColumbo as it enters the interplanetary phase of the journey to Mercury. This includes data from the “selfies” taken by the spacecraft .
Click the image for a larger version. Credit: ESA/BepiColombo/MTM – CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
ESA: This trio of images was captured by the BepiColombo spacecraft after it blasted off into space at 01:45 GMT on 20 October on its seven year cruise to Mercury, the innermost planet of the Solar System.
In the hours immediately after launch, critical operations took place, including deployments of the solar wings and antennas. The Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) has two 15 m-long solar arrays that will be used to generate power, while the antennas onboard ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) are needed to communicate with Earth, and eventually to transmit science data. The deployments were all confirmed by telemetry sent by the spacecraft to ESA’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
The transfer module is also equipped with three monitoring cameras – or ‘M-CAMs’ – which provide black-and-white snapshots in 1024 x 1024 pixel resolution. The M-CAM 1 camera imaged one of the deployed solar wings of the transfer module (left), while M-CAM 2 and M-CAM 3 captured the medium- and high-gain antennas on the MPO (centre, and right, respectively), along with other structural elements of the spacecraft.
Click here for an infographic showing the locations of the cameras onboard the MTM together with the new images.
The monitoring cameras will be used on various occasions during the cruise phase, notably during the flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury. While the MPO is equipped with a high-resolution scientific camera, this can only be operated after separating from the MTM upon arrival at Mercury in late 2025 because, like several of the 11 instrument suites, it is located on the side of the spacecraft fixed to the MTM during cruise.
JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter sits inside a protective sunshield on ‘top’ of the MPO, and cannot be seen in these images.
BepiColombo is a joint endeavour between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA. It is the first European mission to Mercury, the smallest and least explored planet in the inner Solar System, and the first to send two spacecraft to make complementary measurements of the planet and its dynamic environment at the same time.
Here’s a replay of just the launch. The moments between ignition and beginning the ascent always make me shudder a bit notice because of the flame seemingly enveloping the boosters.
Here’s a replay of the launch and events leading up to it. Very good video, if you are in a hurry skip ahead to the 39 minute mark to see the launch and I will put up a shorter version.
So BepiColumbo is on the way to Mercury, but there is a long way to go so my admonition stays the same:
Good Luck BepiColumbo!!
Just hours away from launch.
Coverage begins at 00:00 UTC/ 20:00 ET and you can find it right here of course.
We are only a week away from one of those missions I have been patiently waiting for and it’s finally happening.
It’s fun to watch a mission unfold from the very beginning evolve to launch and deployment.
Hopefully I won’t be in the middle of another regional internet outage like a couple of days ago – grrr.
Launch Date: 20 October 2018
Launch Time: 01:45 UTC / 21:45 ET
You can tell the launch of BepiColumbo is getting closer as the orbiters are fueled before launch. To be completely accurate this image is “preparing” for fueling. BepiColumbo is scheduled for launch next month.
I believe the target date is 19 October.
Did you know there is an asteroid named BepiColumbo? Well there is. Here is the orbital simulation from JPL’s Small Body Database Browser. The asteroid will make a “close” approach to Earth on 30 September. Not so close really 1.36 astronomical units, yeah still 36 percent further than the Sun.
ESA’s Press release:
The BepiColombo Mercury Transfer Module and Mercury Planetary Orbiter being prepared for chemical propulsion fueling.
The transfer module will use both ion propulsion and chemical propulsion, in combination with gravity assist flybys at Earth, Venus and Mercury to bring the two science orbiters close enough to Mercury to be gravitationally captured into its orbit. There, ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter will use its small thrusters to deliver JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter into its elliptical orbit around Mercury, before separating and descending to its own orbit closer to the planet.
The two science orbiters (the MMO and MPO) are now connected in their launch configuration and will be loaded with propellants this week.
The image is from the process of connecting the orbiters. If you want to really have a nice detailed look ESA has a high resolution image (353k) that is really worth checking out.
About the orbiters (from ESA):
MMO (Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter)
MMO’s main science goals are to provide a detailed study of the magnetic environment of Mercury, the interaction of the solar wind with the planet, and the diverse chemical species present in the exosphere – the planet’s extremely tenuous ‘atmosphere’.
MPO (Mercury Planetary Orbiter)
The MPO will focus more on surface processes and composition, and together with MMO, will help piece together the full picture of the interaction of the solar wind on the planet’s environment and surface. Together they will watch how this interaction at the surface feeds back into what is observed in the exosphere and how that varies both in time and location – something that can only be achieved with two spacecraft in such complementary orbits.
The mission is proceeding on a time schedule that will launch on 19 October at 01:45 UT atop an Atlas V rocket from Kourou, French Guiana.
Image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique video du CSG – J. Odang
ESA put out this nice animation of the planned sequence of events once BepiColumbo is launched later this year.
Getting to Mercury is a series of short vital steps prior to launch. Another one is complete.