BepiColombo’s two satellites will separate shortly before moving into orbit and then start their separate scientific investigations. Europe’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter will focus on gathering imagery and data on the planet’s surface, while Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter will learn more about how Mercury’s magnetic field interacts with the sun.
This mission aims to determine some basic information about Mercury: how it formed, how it changed over the solar system’s history, what the interior of Mercury looks like, and even if the planet is still volcanically or geologically active today.
BepiColombo’s arrival will undoubtedly bring new information to light. One of the highlights of MESSENGER was confirming the presence of water ice in permanently shadowed craters at the poles. While BepiColombo will follow up on MESSENGER’s investigations, it will also find data that we can’t even imagine yet.
It’s all part of a larger quest to better understand the solar system. As engineers directed spacecraft this year at places such as Mars and a little asteroid called Ryugu, one of the goals is learning how our neighborhood changed over the eons. It helps tell us a little bit more about the Earth’s origin story.
To explore solar system worlds, the science requires risk and bold engineering. Even if BepiColombo only partially fulfills its objectives, the knowledge that researchers gained in designing and launching the spacecraft will be applied to future missions. And that will make BepiColombo noteworthy in space exploration, regardless of the outcome.