ESA – BepiColombo Mission patch.
Oct. 19, 2018
Ariane 5 will take off this weekend from Kourou, with two probes and instruments designed by the University of Bern on board.
Swiss researchers and companies took part in the ambitious Mercure research mission to be launched on the night of Friday to Saturday. The instruments developed must help reveal the secrets of the planet closest to the sun.
Instruments designed and manufactured by the Institute of Physics at the University of Bern will travel aboard the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) probes.
This is the Bela laser altimeter, the largest and most fragile instrument of the mission, and the brand new Strofio mass spectrometer, says the University of Bern.
The BepiColombo mission consists of two space vehicles: one built by Europeans, Mercury Planetary Orbiter (DFO), and the other by the Japanese agency, Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).
The two vehicles will travel together to Mercury in a coupled system, but once there, they will be placed in different orbits. The MMO will study the interaction between the planet and the solar wind, while DFO will be responsible for mapping the surface of Mercury.
3D representation of the planet
The objective of the Bela laser altimeter, one of the elements on board DFO, is to measure the shape, topography and morphology of the Mercury surface. “Bela essentially allows us to create a 3D representation of the whole planet,” explains Nicolas Thomas, co-director of the project and director of the Institute of Physics at the University of Bern.
The all-new Strofio mass spectrometer is designed to capture the very fine atmosphere of Mercury – the exosphere – and to analyze its chemical composition.
The researchers had to design instruments so that they could withstand the heat of the sun: on Mercury, the temperature can be ten times higher than on Earth.
The academic world is not the only Swiss player involved in the BepiColombo research mission. Neuchâtel equipment developed by Micro-Cameras & Space Exploration (MCSE) is part of the trip.
MCSE has completely produced an instrument panel consisting of three micro-cameras. These will be used especially to photograph the passages near Venus and the approach of Mercury.
For its part, the armament and aeronautics group Ruag notably delivered the structure of the MPO vehicle in aluminum panels.
BepiColombo is the first European mission to Mercury, the smallest and least explored planet in the inner Solar System. It is the first Mercury mission to send two science orbiters to make complementary measurements of the planet’s dynamic environment at the same time.
A third module will transport the orbiters on the seven year cruise to Mercury, using a combination of solar electric propulsion and nine gravity assist flybys at Earth, Venus and Mercury.
Watch live as the ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission to Mercury is launched on an Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana:
BepiColombo launch live broadcast: https://livestream.com/ESA/BepiColomboLaunch
03:15 CEST Start of live transmission
03:45 CEST Liftoff, followed by confirmation of acquisition of signal, expected 40 minutes after launch
04:30 CEST End of live transmission
ESA’s BepiColombo: http://sci.esa.int/bepicolombo/
BepiColombo Laser Altimeter – BELA: http://www.bela.space.unibe.ch/
Micro-Cameras & Space Exploration (MCSE): http://www.microcameras.ch/site/
Images, Text, Credits: ESA/ATS/University of Bern/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.
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