An international team of scientists has recently unveiled the spacecraft that is going to be launched for a mission to Mercury. Called BepiColombo, the spacecraft will make a seven-year journey to one of the most enigmatic planets of the solar system.
According to The Guardian, BepiColombo will be the first mission to Mercury by the European Space Agency (ESA) in collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The joint project, involving 33 companies from 12 EU countries, costs more than $1.48 billion.
The craft, which is going to be launched in 2018, has a unique design that comprises of a stacked aircraft transporting two orbiters. One of these orbiters will be European and the other will be Japanese, and they will separate on reaching complementary but different orbits around Mercury.
The mission will look deeper into the mysteries of Mercury that is considered to be the most peculiar among all the rocky planets. Moreover, it is difficult to place a spacecraft into steady orbit around the first rock from the Sun due to the latter’s huge gravity. In addition, the Sun’s brightness makes it hard to study Mercury.
BepiColombo has been covered with a specially designed high temperature and multi-layered insulation that is created with 50 layers of aluminum and ceramics. The antennae of the craft is covered with a newly developed coating and made of heat-resistant titanium.
"We are flying into a pizza oven which is why we had to test materials at a very high and different temperature rates,” said project manager Ulrich Reininghaus, as Deccan Chronicle reported. “Sometimes with very unwanted results."
Incidentally, to date, only two NASA probes have visited the planet --Mariner 10 in the 1970s and Messenger from 2011 to 2015. The BepiColombo mission will explore the peculiarities of the magnetic field generation and internal structure of Mercury. The probe will also study how the planet interacts with the Sun and solar wind. Researchers working on the project have called it one of the most complicated missions to be undertaken by the ESA.