Launch and trajectory
BepiColombo was successfully launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana on 20 October 2018. Initially the craft was too cold, but after the on-board heaters were turned on, the mission got the go-ahead to launch, to begin its journey to investigate the innermost planet of the solar system.
The mission will take seven Earth years to reach Mercury, as can be seen in the video below. This is because gravitational assists are used to allow BepiColombo to reach Mercury at a speed low enough to enter its orbit. This technique uses multiple flybys of planets, each time slowing down the craft using the planet’s gravitational field.
BepiColombo also has a transfer module equipped with an ion drive, which uses charged xenon gas as propellant. The ion drive can be powered by the on-board solar panels.