Credit: ESA/BepiColombo/MTM – CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
The European-Japanese BepiColombo mission captured a selfie showing an extended solar array and an insulation-wrapped sun sensor on Saturday (Oct. 20), a day after lifting off from Kourou, French Guiana.

The European-Japanese spacecraft will be the third mission to the rocky planet closest to the sun.

BepiColombo is a joint mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), carried out under ESA leadership.

A summary of key themes around the BepiColombo mission to Mercury, a joint endeavour between ESA and JAXA.

The mission consists of two spacecraft: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), which was constructed by ESA, and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), which was constructed by JAXA. It aims to perform a comprehensive study of Mercury, including its magnetic field, magnetosphere, interior structure, and surface.

The orbiters will be able to operate or partially operate some of their instruments during the cruise phase, affording unique opportunities to collect scientifically valuable data at Venus, for example. Moreover, some of the instruments designed to study Mercury in a particular way, can be used in a completely different way at Venus – the main difference being that Venus has a thick atmosphere while Mercury does not.
BepiColombo will take seven years to get to planet Mercury, with a total of nine gravity assist flybys at Earth, Venus and Mercury before entering orbit.

Both spacecraft will fly to Mercury together as a coupled system but will be put into separate orbits upon arrival in 2025. The MMO will investigate the magnetospheric interaction between the planet and the solar wind, while the MPO will be put onto a lower orbit which is optimal for carrying out remote sensing of the planet’s surface.

The science objectives of the BepiColombo mission cover all aspects of the planet and its environment.

Experts say BepiColombo could not only shed light on the mysteries of our neighborhood’s smallest planet but also offer new insights into how the solar system formed and even provide vital clues as to whether planets found orbiting other stars – so-called exoplanets – could be habitable.