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ESA’s Mercury mission BepiColombo – Status, results and upcoming activities

Presentation #106.01 in the session Mercury (Oral Presentation)

Published onOct 23, 2023
ESA’s Mercury mission BepiColombo – Status, results and upcoming activities

The joint project project between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for exploration of Mercury, BepiColombo, has been launched on 20 October 2018 from the European spaceport Kourou in French Guyana. Following the launch it has successfully performed several flybys (one at Earth, two at Venus and three of Mercury). After another three flybys at Mercury in late 2024 and early 2025 BepiColombo with its state of the art and very comprehensive payload will orbit the planet and perform measurements to increase our knowledge on the fundamental questions about Mercury’s evolution, composition, interior, magnetosphere, and exosphere [1]. BepiColombo consists of two orbiters, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (Mio).

Since the two spacecraft are in a stacked configuration during the cruise only some of the instruments are able to perform scientific observations. Mio and MPO are connected to each on-top of the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM). The MTM contains four solar electric propulsion engines and will bring the two spacecraft to Mercury. In late 2025, this ‘stack’ configuration is abandoned, the MTM will be jettisoned, and the two spacecraft are brought into their final Mercury orbit.

Despite the reduced instrument availability, several scientific and engineering operations has been scheduled during the cruise phase, and especially during the swing-bys. During the flybys of BepiColombo, images of Earth, Venus, and the surface of Mercury were obtained through the Monitoring Cameras. The BepiColombo science cameras can unfortunately not operated because they are looking at the transfer module. During the second Venus flyby of BepiColombo several instruments onboard of both spacecraft MPO and Mio obtained unique results measured at one of the few gas-dynamics dominated interaction regions between the supersonic solar wind and Venus. These rare multipoint synergistic observations at stable conditions experimentally confirmed what was previously predicted for the barely explored stagnation region close to solar minimum. Mercury’s southern inner magnetosphere is an unexplored region as it was not observed by earlier space missions. BepiColombo SERENA instrument ion sensors could perform measurements when the spacecraft passed through this region during its first flyby and found that the dayside magnetopause and bow-shock crossing were much closer to the planet than expected.

During the conference, a status of the mission and its instruments, and results from science operations during cruise will be given.

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