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The BepiColombo Mission to planet Mercury is a joint project between the European Space Agency ESA and the Japanese counterpart JAXA to be launched in 2013 and orbiting Mercury from 2018 onwards. The project named after <Guiseppe (Bepi) Colombo consists of two spacecraft:

  • the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) provided by ESA and
  • the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) provided by JAXA

providing for the first time two-point measurements in the vicinity of the closest planet in our solar system.

> Science Objectives
> Mission Facts
> The Journey
> Scientific Payload
> MPS contribution
> Related links
> BepiColombo publications by MPS members


Total mass: 400 kg
Payload mass: 50 kg
Total mass: 220 kg
Payload mass: 41 kg


Science objectives

(from ESA website)

  • Origin and evolution of a planet close to the parent star
  • Mercury as a planet: form, interior, structure, geology, composition and craters
  • Mercury's vestigial atmosphere (exosphere): composition and dynamics
  • Mercury's magnetized envelope (magnetosphere): structure and dynamics
  • Origin of Mercury's magnetic field
  • Test of Einstein's theory of general relativity

The scientific objectives behind BepiColombo can be viewed by considering the following 12 questions:

  1. What can we learn from Mercury about the composition of the solar nebula and the formation of the planetary system?
  2. Why is Mercury's normalized density markedly higher than that of all other terrestrial planets, Moon included?
  3. Is the core of Mercury liquid or solid?
  4. Is Mercury tectonically active today?
  5. Why such a small planet does possess an intrinsic magnetic field, while Venus, Mars and the Moon do not have any?
  6. Why do spectroscopic observations not reveal the presence of any iron, while this element is supposedly the major constituent of Mercury?
  7. Do the permanently shadowed craters of the polar regions contain sulphur or water ice?
  8. Is the unseen hemisphere of Mercury markedly different from that imaged by Mariner 10?
  9. What are the production mechanisms of the exosphere?
  10. In the absence of any ionosphere, how does the magnetic field interact with the solar wind?
  11. Is Mercury's magnetised environment characterised by features reminiscent of the aurorae, radiation belts and magnetospheric substorms observed at Earth?
  12. Since the advance of Mercury's perihelion was explained in terms of space-time curvature, can we take advantage of the proximity of the Sun to test general relativity with improved accuracy?

Mission Facts

Launch Date Aug-2013
Mission End Nominally 1 year in Mercury orbit until September 2020
Launch Vehicle Soyuz 2-1B/Fregat-M
Launch Mass 2300 kg
Cruise Heliocentric transfer orbit
At Mercury MPO polar orbit 400 × 1500 km, 2.3 hr period
MMO polar orbit 400 × 12 000 km, 9.2 hr period

The Journey

The trajectories of the MPO and the MMO are shown below compared to the orbit of the NASA Messenger spacecraft.

Scientific Payload


BELA - BepiColombo Laser Altimeter
N.Thomas Physikalisches Institut University of Bern, Switzerland Co-PI
T. Spohn DLR Inst. für Planetenforschung, Berlin, Germany Co-PI
ISA - Italian Spring Accelerometer
V. Iafolla CNR-IFSI, Rome, Italy PI
MERMAG - Mercury Magnetometer
K.H. Glassmeier Institute of Geophysics and Extraterrestrial Physics, Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany PI
C.M. Carr The Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College London, UK Deputy PI
MERTIS-TIS - Mercury Thermal Infrared Spectrometer
E.K. Jessberger Institut für Planetologie, University Münster, Germany PI
MGNS - Mercury Gamma ray and Neutron Spectrometer
I. Mitrofanov Institute for Space Research, Moscow, Russia PI
MIXS - Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer
G. Fraser Space Research Centre, University of Leicester, UK PI
K. Muinonen Observatory Univ. of Helsinki, Finland Co-PI
MORE - Mercury Orbiter Radio science Experiment
L. Iess University of Rome "La Sapienza", Italy PI
Sami Asmar Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, USA Co-PI
PHEBUS - Probing of Hermean Exosphere by Ultraviolet Spectroscopy
E. Chassefière SA/IPSL, Université P&M Curie Paris, France PI
S. Okano Planetary Plasma & Atmospheric Research Center, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan Co-PI
O. Korablev IKI, Moscow, Russia Co-PI
SERENA - Search for Exosphere Refilling and Emitted Neutral Abundances (Neutral and ionised particle analyser)
S. Orsini CNR-IFSI, Rome, Italy PI
S. A. Livi Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, USA Co-PI
S. Barabash Swedish Inst. of Space Physics (IRF), Kiruna, Sweden Co-PI
K. Torkar Space Research Institute, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Graz, Austria Co-PI
SIMBIO-SYS - Spectrometers and Imagers for MPO BepiColombo Integrated Observatory System (High resolution and stereo cameras, Visual and NIR spectrometer)
E. Flamini Italian Space Agency, Rome, Italy PI
F. Capaccioni INAF-IASF, Rome, Italy Co-PI
L. Colangeli INAF-Osserv. Astronomico di Capodimonte, Napoli, Italy Co-PI
G. Cremonese INAF-Osserv. Astronomico di Padova, Italy Co-PI
A. Doressoundiram LESIA-Obs. de Paris, Meudon, France Co-PI
O. Forni Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale (IAS), Orsay, France Co-PI
J. L. Josset SPACE-X, Space Exploration, Neuchâtel, Switzerland Co-PI
SIXS - Solar Intensity X-ray Spectrometer
J. Huovelin Observatory University of Helsinki, Finland PI
M. Grande Space Science & Technol. Dept. CCLR-Rutherford Appleton Lab. Chilton, UK Co-PI


MERMAG-M/MGF - Mercury Magnetometer
W. Baumjohann PI
A. Matsuoka Co-PI
MPPE - Mercury Plasma Particle Experiment
Y. Saito PI
J.-A. Sauvaud
M. Hirahara
S. Barabash
PWI - Plasma Wave Instrument
H. Matsumoto PI
J.-L. Bougeret
L. Blomberg
H. Kojima
S. Yagitani
MSASI - Mercury Sodium Atmospheric Spectral Imager
I. Yoshikawa PI
O. Korablev Co-PI
MDM - Mercury Dust Monitor
K. Nogami PI
H. Ohashi Co-PI

MPS contribution

MPS is involved in 4 different Instruments and will provide hardware for them. On the planetary orbiter MPS is responsible for components of the Laseraltimeter BELA, the particle package SERENA, and the x-ray spectrometer MIXS. On the magnetospheric orbiter the institute is involved in the particle package MPPE.


Related links

> BepiColombo
> BepiColombo MPO
> BepiColombo MMO
> Mariner 10 (Other Mercury mission)
> Messenger (Other Mercury mission)

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