The BepiColombo spacecraft, in the early hours of October 2, swung Mercury. It is a joint project by Japanese and European space agencies. The spacecraft passed within just 124 miles of the planet’s surface, and some fantastic pictures were sent back to Earth. In October 2018, BepiColombo’s cruise from Earth began.
Around the sun, it will travel twice when it takes Mercury to orbit the star three times. This will allow it to rendezvous with Mercury for another swing-by on June 23, 2022. BepiColombo will take a total of six Mercury swing-bys. The spacecraft’s velocity will reduce by the cumulative effect of the plane’s gravity to the point where it will fall into orbit with Mercury, which will happen at the end of 2025.
There are two connected spacecraft in BepiColombo and a propulsion unit. Through interplanetary space, during its cruise, on one side to the interplanetary propulsion unit, the European orbiter is attached. The spacecraft carries a Japanese orbiter Mio and a sunshield to prevent the orbiter from overheating.
The camera inside the MPO can imagine and analyze Mercury’s surface in great detail and will operate once MPO finally becomes free-flying. Most of the spacecraft’s science instruments will be inoperative until each orbiter is set free. It will happen around December 2025.
In the mission planning in the later stage, it was planned that BepiColombo would be flying blind during its whole cruise from Earth. This means no images will be available until orbit around Mercury has been achieved. In 2015, the level of public interest was aroused by pictures of comet 67p from the Rosetta mission. The engineers of the spacecraft suggested that low-cost, lightweight cameras should be added.
It was decided by the engineers at the end of 2016 that three small monitoring cameras would be mounted onto the craft. The length of the cameras would be 2.6 inches in length. During swing-bys, these would snap planetary pictures. On the Mercury Transfer Module, it was decided to place the cameras. Scientists would be able to monitor the communication antennas, the deployment of the solar panels, the magnetometer boom. The solar panels provide power to the spacecraft, and the magnetometer boom is used for measuring magnetic fields.
The part of the southern hemisphere was shown by camera three. It begins with the view of sunrise over Astrolabe Rupes, which is a 155-mile long curved structure marking where one part of the planet’s crust has been pushed over nearby terrain due to the whole planet contracting as it slowly cooled. This is known as lobate scarps.
The later wider area was revealed like the lava-flooded, 156-mile-wide Haydn Crater and Pampu Facula, one of many bright spots likely formed by explosive volcanic eruptions. Both of these features are related to the planet’s long volcanic history. More than three billion years ago, these volcanoes were active but probably persisting until around one billion years ago. Mercury’s northern hemisphere was focused by camera two. This includes the region surrounding Calvino Cater. Lermontov crater was also shown.
According to NASA, they are still struggling to understand the planet’s composition, origin and history. Why the planet has explosive volcanos and strange, unique hollows on its surface? The spacecraft, once in orbit, will help the scientists to know more about how the planet was formed and its composition. The advanced scientific instruments in the spacecraft will allow the scientists to do the research.