After many years of absence, humanity is about to return to Mercury thanks to the European mission of ESA BepiColombo. The mission will be composed of two distinct probes: Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), which will study the surface and the internal composition of the planet, and Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), which instead will study the magnetosphere.
The launch took place successfully at 1:45 UTC on 20 October 2018 with an Ariane 5 rocket from the Center spatial guyanais in Kourou, French Guiana. The two probes will travel for about 7.2 years along the solar system, driven by a service module, using ionic and chemical propulsion and gravitational slingshot maneuvers with the Earth, Venus and Mercury itself. The final arrival in orbit around Mercury is scheduled for 2025 and the mission should last until 2028, during which the two probes will work independently.
Among the scientific objectives of the mission are the study of the magnetosphere, of the magnetic field, of the polar deposits, of the geology and craters, of the origin and evolution of the planet, of the exosphere. Experiments on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity will also be carried out. We recall that this theory succeeded in explaining the orbital anomalies of Mercury, which can not be explained by the classical theory of gravitation.
Once again Italy is at the forefront of the aerospace sector and has actively contributed half of the project, thanks to ASI, Leonardo, Thales Alenia Spazio and Telespazio, the INAF of Padua, the Parthenope University of Naples, the University of Rome “La Sapienza”.
The mission was dedicated to Giuseppe Colombo, known as Bepi, who was an astronomer, engineer, mathematician and Paduan physicist, also awarded by NASA with the gold medal for his merits in the field of scientific research.