Mercury ~ 2013-2020?
BepiColombo is an ESA orbiter mission to study the planet Mercury. It is ESA's first planned probe to Mercury, and it will consist of two main science portions - the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).
The probe has been repeatedly delayed and scaled back (a lander was cancelled, the Mercury Surface Element (MSE)) due to budget constraints. Its current launch window is August to September of 2013. It has an arrival date of June 2019 and a nominal lifetime of 1 year, through September 2020.
|Artist's rendering of the BepiColombo spacecraft, courtesy of ESA.|
The probe is planned to enter Mercury orbit in the summer of 2019 after a 7-year cruise. The planned route will include a lunar gravity assist in October 2013, an Earth gravity assist in 2015, two Venus gravity assists in 2016, and two gravity assists by Mercury in 2018.
The nominal orbit of the MPO is elliptical, with a periapsis of 400 km and apoapsis of 1508 km above the planet's surface. The nominal orbit of the MMO is much more elliptical, having a periapsis of 400 km and apoapsis of 11,824 km.
There are six primary science objectives:
- Study the origin and evolution of a planet close to its parent star.
- Study Mercury as a planet - its form, interior, structure, geology, composition, and craters.
- Investigate Mercury's vestigial atmosphere (exosphere) - its composition and dynamics.
- Study Mercury's magnetized envelop (magnetosphere) - structure and dynamics.
- Investigate the origin of Mercury's magnetic field.
- Confirm Einstein's theory of general relativity.
The Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) is a craft that will weigh 560 kg and have solar panels that will generate 450 W of power. The science instruments are:
- Wide- and Narrow-angle cameras.
- Infrared, ultraviolet, gamma, x, and neutron spectrometers, as well as a particle analyzer.
- Laser altimeter.
The Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) is a craft that will weigh 290 kg and have solar panels that will generate 300 W of power. The science instruments are:
- Ion spectrometer.
- Electron energy analyzer.
- Cold and energetic plasma detectors.
- Plasma wave analyzer.