Milestone reached for BepiColombo space mission

Science orbiters stacked together, one carrying space instrument developed at Leicester.

A key milestone has been reached in the European Space Agency's mission to the planet Mercury, which is carrying an innovative piece of technology developed by University of Leicester scientists.

The two science orbiters of the joint ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission are connected in their launch configuration and the European science orbiter and transport module have been given the go-ahead to be loaded with propellants.

The mission completed its Qualification Acceptance Review in the last week, which confirms it is on track for its 19 October launch. Following the successful fuelling readiness review on 30 August, the chemical propellants – such as hydrazine – can be added to the European Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) and Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO).

BepiColombo carries the Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer (MIXS), developed by the University of Leicester, as part of its scientific payload. By measuring fluorescent X-rays from the surface, MIXS will provide a detailed analysis of the surface elemental composition of Mercury to aid our understanding of the planet’s evolution and formation processes. The MIXS data set will also provide information on surface-exosphere-magnetosphere interactions.

Professor Emma Bunce, Principal Investigator in our Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: “It is fantastic news to hear that the ESA/JAXA BepiColombo has reached this important “fuelling readiness” milestone out at the launch site in Kourou. Once topped up with fuel there is no going back, and the next stop is the launch itself. We are very excited here at the University of Leicester that the BepiColombo mission will finally be on its way to Mercury after years of hard work.

“We still will have to wait for another 7.2 years until our instrument begins its scientific mission – but with the exciting discoveries waiting to be made it will be well worth the wait!”

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