Category Archives: BepiColombo

BepiColumbo Update

Another milepost reached in the ESA/JAXA BepiColumbo mission to Mercury.

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

BepiColumbo Plasma Sim

BepiColumbo is going to use electric propulsion thrusters to create an ion beam to travel to Mercury.  What sci-fi fan cannot love that?

Wow, science fiction comes to life again.  BepiColumbo is going to be a great mission!

Here’s the caption with the animation links intact from ESA:

When the Mercury Transfer Module of the BepiColombo mission fires its electric propulsion thrusters an ion beam is extracted. This is created through the ionization of xenon propellant, generating the charged particles that can be accelerated further using an electric field.

Together with gravity assist flybys at Earth, Venus and Mercury, the thrust from the ion beam provides the means to travel to the innermost planet.

After escaping the pull of Earth’s gravity with the Ariane 5 launcher, the spacecraft is on an orbit around the Sun. The transfer module then has to use its thrusters to brake against the mighty pull of the Sun’s gravity. It also has to tune the shape of its orbit in order to make a series of nine gravity assist flybys at the planets before finally delivering the mission’s two science spacecraft into Mercury orbit.

This image is an excerpt from a supercomputer simulation that models the flow of plasma around the spacecraft just after the high energy ion beam is switched on. An outline of the composite spacecraft with its extended solar arrays is included for reference.

The simulation tracks the particles in the beam as well as those that diffuse around the spacecraft, which are created by the interaction of the high energy beam ions with the neutral xenon atoms that also flow out of the thruster.  It shows the density of the plasma flowing around the spacecraft and its evolution: red represents high density, blue is low density (see animation for detailed scale).

Although the animation is several seconds long it has been slowed down, representing a mere eight milliseconds of real time – the time necessary for the plasma to reach a steady state.

The simulation was performed to demonstrate that the plasma produced by the thruster is not damaging to the spacecraft: its materials, including solar arrays or instruments, for example, or to the electric propulsion system itself. The simulations also confirmed there are no spurious or dangerous charging events.

Inflight measurements will verify the simulation results and help improve ways in which the generated plasma, spacecraft and space environment interactions can be better modelled.

BepiColombo is a joint endeavour between ESA and JAXA. After their seven-year interplanetary journey, the two science orbiters – the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter – will start their main mission to provide the most in-depth study of mysterious Mercury to date.

The spacecraft begin transferring to Europe’s spaceport in Kourou this week, where an intensive period of preparations will ready the mission for launch later this year.

The simulations were performed by Félicien Filleul as part of ESA’s Young Graduate Trainee programme.

Copyright:   ESA/Félicien Filleul

 

 

BepiColumbo Clears a Large Hurdle


Great news, BepiColumbo has a launch site!

ESA – 9 March 2018Europe’s first mission to Mercury will soon be ready for shipping to the spaceport to begin final preparations for launch.

The mission passed a major review yesterday, meaning that the three BepiColombo spacecraft, along with ground equipment and mission experts, are confirmed to start the move from ESA’s centre in the Netherlands to Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at the end of next month. The launch window is open from 5 October until 29 November.

“It’s been a long and occasionally bumpy road to this point, and there is still plenty to do until we are ready for launch,” says Ulrich Reininghaus, ESA’s BepiColombo project manager, “but we are extremely pleased to finally move our preparations to the launch site, and are grateful to everyone who has made this possible.

“In parallel we are continuing with some long-duration firing tests on a replica transfer module thruster, under space-like conditions, to be best prepared for our journey to Mercury.”

Once at Kourou, an intensive six months of essential preparation are needed, including more review checkpoints.

Work includes dressing the spacecraft in protective insulation to prepare for the harsh space environment and extreme temperatures they will experience operating close to the Sun, attaching and testing the solar wings and their deployment mechanisms, installing the sunshield, fuelling, and connecting the three spacecraft together.

The final weeks will see the spacecraft stack inside the Ariane 5 rocket fairing, and preparing the launch vehicle itself, ready to blast the mission on a seven-year journey around the inner Solar System to investigate Mercury’s mysteries.

BepiColombo journey timeline

A transfer module will carry two science orbiters to the innermost planet, using a combination of solar power, electric propulsion and nine gravity-assist flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury to set it on course.

The two orbiters will make complementary measurements of the innermost planet and its environment from different orbits, from its deep interior to its interaction with the solar wind, to provide the best understanding of Mercury to date, and how the innermost planet of a solar system forms and evolves close to its parent star.

BepiColombo is a joint endeavour between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA. ESA is providing the Mercury Transfer Module, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the sunshield and interface structure, and JAXA is providing the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter.

 

Image credit: spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Mercury: NASA/JPL