For the first time, the BepiColombo space probe, jointly launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), has passed Mercury. The probe was developed with the participation of Hungarian engineers and researchers, including specialists from the ELKH Wigner Research Centre for Physics (WIGNER FK). The spacecraft approached Mercury’s surface on 2 October 2021 Hungarian time, at a distance of 199 km, and has already transmitted images and scientific data to researchers.

For the first time, the BepiColombo space probe, jointly launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), has passed Mercury. The probe was developed with the participation of Hungarian engineers and researchers, including specialists from the ELKH Wigner Research Centre for Physics (WIGNER FK). The spacecraft approached Mercury’s surface on 2 October 2021 Hungarian time, at a distance of 199 km, and has already transmitted images and scientific data to researchers.

The aim of BepiColombo is to build on previous missions to Mercury, Mariner 10 and MESSENGER, to better understand the evolution, geology, origin and properties of the innermost planet of the Solar System, as well as its magnetosphere and its unique interaction with the nearby Sun and its processes.

Among other things, Hungarian scientists have been involved in the development of the Planetary Ion Camera (PICAM), an ion mass spectrometer that studies the ions that escape from the surface of Mercury. The low-voltage power supply for the PICAM instrument, which can withstand the extreme temperatures of Mercury’s environment, was developed by WIGNER FK, while the electronic environment simulating the BepiColombo probe was created by SGF Ltd. WIGNER FK researchers are also involved in processing the data measured by BepiColombo’s instruments.

After the first flyby, it will be years before BepiColombo can orbit Mercury. By then, the spacecraft will have made six gravitational swings, similar to the current pass, around Mercury, which will slow its motion further each time. Thanks to these swings, the spacecraft will eventually be able to orbit the planet by late 2025.

A special feature of the BepiColombo spacecraft is that it will be split into two parts when it orbits the planet in 2025: the ESA-developed Mercury Planet Orbiter (MPO) will study Mercury up close, while the JAXA-built Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), Mio, will also study Mercury’s wider environment in an extended orbit.

Photo: ESA