BEPICOLOMBO: Europe to the discovery of Mercury
BepiColombo is the fifth mission Cornerstone program Horizon 2000+ SPC adopted by ESA in 2007 for the program of the Science Directorate. It is time to observe the planet Mercury and the surrounding environment. It is one of the most ambitious interplanetary exploration missions ever planned by ESA.
The mission consists of two separate probes that will operate independently once arrived in orbit of Mercury carried by a transfer form with engine: Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO): designed and built under the leadership of the European Space Agency (ESA) is a three-axis stabilized probe in low orbit and nadir pointing; dedicated in particular to the observations of remote sensing and radioscience; Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO): designed and built under the guidance of the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) with contributions of science and technology in Europe, which is based on a form stabilized for rotation with particularly eccentric orbit; dedicated to the measurement of magnetic fields, waves and particles; Mercury Transfer Module (MTM): This item is designed and built in Europe and is only used during the trip and for insertion into orbit. Has no scientific payload, but it is a key to get to Mercury.
The set of three parts, to which it is also added a mechanical element of conjunction between MPO and MMO, will be launched in 2016 by the European base of Kourou by an Ariane 5.
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and together with Venus, Earth and Mars is the family of the terrestrial planets. It is a rocky planet and strongly marked by impact craters, has very large temperature variations between day and night, which lasts about 58 Earth days. It does not have an atmosphere, but a thin layer of atoms and plasma form an exosphere. Both the surface and the exosphere are strongly influenced by the solar wind. The study of Mercury is important to define and validate the models of formation and evolution of plants, but also of the entire solar system, as well as to understand the boundary conditions favorable to the emergence of life on our and other planets.
The main scientific objectives of the mission are to study the origin, evolution, and the motion of a planet orbiting close to its star; analyze their characteristics as planets: shape, structure, surface composition and internal structure; investigate the properties exosphere and its dynamics of interaction; identify the origin of the magnetic field and the characteristics of the magnetosphere; validate the predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
ASI realizes for the Italian scientific community a significant contribution to the mission, with as many as 4 out of 11 experiments with Italian Principal Investigator:
SIMBIO-SYS, an integrated system of observation and characterization of the surface of the planet with rooms (HRIC and STC) and spectroscopy (VIHI) developed by Selex and scientific guidance ASI;
ISA, the accelerometer with high sensitivity, developed by INAF and TAS-I.
MORE, the experiment of radioscience based on board transponder Ka-band (KaT), even TAS-I. For MORE, the scientific responsibility is the University of Rome Sapienza, with the support of JPL / NASA;
SERENA, the experiment for the study of the particle by the two neutral particle analyzer (NPA) and ELENA STOFIO, the latter made by the Southwest Research Institute-USA, and two spectrometers ions (IS) and MIPA PICAM, a scientific responsibility of IFSI, ENEA, ISM and IFN and industrial CGS and AMDL.
ESA and the member countries of the collaboration signed a “Multilateral Agreement” which describes the contributions of each country participating in the mission. In particular, for the experiments MORE and SERENA, ASI has also signed a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with NASA and SIMBIO-SYS signed a MoU with ASI and CNES.