by Gavin Hanson
The next mission to Mercury is planned to launch at 9:45 p.m. ET on Friday night from Kourou, French Guiana.
BepiColombo will take seven years to reach Mercury after leaving Earth and will make several planetary fly-bys including Earth, Venus and Mercury itself, before it slows enough to maintain an orbit of the solar system’s smallest planet. It includes two probes — one that will orbit the planet closely, while the other “will orbit farther away, measuring Mercury’s magnetic field,” according to NPR.
Space.com will be providing live coverage of the launch Friday with a commentary starting at 9:15 p.m ET.
The Japanese and European joint mission to Mercury is named BepiColombo after the Italian scientist Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo, who originally calculated the optimal path for an unmanned flight to reach orbit around Mercury, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The first probe sent to Mercury, the Mariner 10, launched in 1973, utilized Colombo’s calculations to orbit the small planet.
The space journey will be “especially challenging because Mercury’s orbit is so close” to the sun, according to the ESA.
It’s estimated the mission will cost European and Japanese space agencies about $1.9 billion, and “national space agencies in Europe have paid for the instrumentation on the MMO, taking the overall budget” to about $3.5 billion, BBC reported.
This will be Europe’s very first mission to Mercury, a trip that of about 5 billion miles, according to CNBC.
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