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Arianespace Successfully Launches Mercury-bound BepiColombo Spacecraft

By | October 22, 2018
BepiColombo liftoff. Photo: 2018 ESA-CNES-Arianespace

BepiColombo liftoff. Photo: 2018 ESA-CNES-Arianespace

Arianespace launched a heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket carrying BepiColombo – Europe’s first mission to Mercury, organized in cooperation with Japan – on its way toward the solar system’s smallest and least-explored terrestrial planet. Ascending from the Spaceport’s ELA-3 launch complex at 10:45:28 p.m. local time in French Guiana,  Ariane 5 lofted its passenger during a flight lasting just under 27 minutes, with the multi-segment BepiColombo spacecraft deployed into an Earth escape orbit.

The BepiColombo mission is being carried out jointly by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). After arriving in late 2025, the spacecraft – built under the industrial leadership of Airbus – will examine the peculiarities of Mercury’s internal structure and magnetic field generation, as well as how the planet interacts with the sun and solar wind.

Missions to Mercury already have been undertaken in the past, including NASA’s Mariner 10, which revealed the first images of the planet in 1974-1975; and Messenger, which provided new but also unexpected data and images when it went into orbit around Mercury between 2011 and 2015. However, BepiColombo will be the first-ever European mission to Mercury providing measurements to study and understand the planet’s history, composition, geophysics, exosphere and magnetosphere.