Europeans and Japanese space agencies said an Ariane Five rocket successfully lifted the spacecraft carrying two probes in orbit on Saturday for a joint mission to Mercury, the planet closest to the sun.
European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the uncrewed BepiColombo ship was successfully separated and sent to orbit from French Guiana as scheduled to begin a seven-year trip to Mercury.
They said that the spacecraft, named after the Italian scientist Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo, was in the right orbit and sent the first signal after takeoff.
The ESA says that the 1,300 million euro (1,500 million dollars) mission is one of the most challenging in its history. The extreme temperatures of Mercury, the intense gravity of the sun and the scorching solar radiation create hellish conditions.
The BepiColombo spacecraft will have to follow the elliptical path that involves an overflight of Earth, two of Venus and six of Mercury so that it can slow down before reaching its destination in December 2025.
When it arrives, BepiColombo will launch two probes, Bepi and Mio, that will independently investigate the surface an magnetic field of Mercury. Is probes are designed to cope with temperatures ranging from 430 degrees Celsius (806 F) on the sun-facing side and -180 degrees Celsius (-292 F) in the shadow of Marcury.
The Bepi developed by the ESA will operate in the internal orbit of Mercury, and the Mio of JAXA will be in the outer orbit to collect data that reveal the internal structure of the planet, its surface, and its geological evolution.
The scientists hope to take advantage of the knowledge acquired by NASA’s Messenger probe, which ended its mission in 2015 after a four-year Mercury orbit. The only other spacecraft that visited Mercury was the NASA Mariner 10 that flew over the planet in the mid-1970s.
Mercury, which is only slightly larger than Earth is a moon, has a massive iron core of which little is known. The researchers we hope to learn more about the formation of the solar system from the data collected by the BepiColombo mission.
“Beyond completing the challenging trip, this mission will return a great deal of science,” said Jan Worner, Director General of ESA, in a statement.
JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa, who led the project earlier, said: “We have high expectations that Mercury’s detailed observations will help us better understand the planet’s environment and, ultimately, the origin of the Solar System, including the one on Earth. ”
It is the second recent cooperation between Europeans and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The JAXA Hayabusa2 probe dropped a German-French rover on the asteroid Ryugu earlier this month.