ESA to send spacecraft to Mercury in a first-of-its-kind mission

The European Space Agency’s ESA BepiColombo mission will send two orbiters to explore the planet where the surface temperatures reach about 450 degrees Celsius. In a first-of-its-kind mission, a UK-built spacecraft will set off for Mercury to determine whether the plant, which is the closest to the Sun, contains water. Through the mission, the space agency hopes to get answers to the questions raised by the previous missions such as whether the planet holds water.

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Key Highlights

  •  The spacecraft will launch from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on October 20 and will take seven years to reach Mercury, arriving in 2025.
  •  During its 5.2 billion miles journey, the spacecraft will make a complex series of fly-bys of Earth, Venus and Mercury to help it slow down enough to avoid the huge gravitational pull of the Sun. The mission is aimed at expanding the existing knowledge surrounding Mercury. 
  • Despite being the nearest to the Sun, the tilt of the planet signifies that some of its areas are permanently in shade and temperatures can fall to minus 180 degrees Celsius, allowing ice to form on the planet. 
  • Through the mission, the researchers also look to learn more about Mercury’s magnetic field. 
  • While it was thought that the planet was solid all the way through, some of the previous missions discovered a magnetic field suggests that it may have a molten interior.

Background

  • Only two spacecraft have been to Mercury until now. The first one was NASA’s ‘Mariner 10’, which flew past the planet in 1974 and 1975 and second was US space agency’s ‘Messenger’, which orbited the planet between 2011 and 2015.
  • Though the spacecraft sent home a great deal of information, they also raised more questions.

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