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  • richardmitnick 1:38 pm on April 6, 2019 Permalink | Reply
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    From European Space Agency: “BepiColombo is ready for its long cruise” 

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    From European Space Agency

    5 April 2019

    Markus Bauer
    ESA Science Programme Communication Officer
    Tel: +31 71 565 6799
    Mob: +31 61 594 3 954
    Email: markus.bauer@esa.int

    Daniel Scuka
    ESA Programme Communication Officer
    Operations & Space Safety
    Email: daniel.scuka@esa.int

    1
    BepiColombo in cruise configuration

    Following a series of tests conducted in space over the past five months, the ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission has successfully completed its near-Earth commissioning phase and is now ready for the operations that will take place during the cruise and, eventually, for its scientific investigations at Mercury.

    BepiColombo started its seven-year long journey to the Solar System’s innermost planet on 20 October 2018, lifting off on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

    After completing the launch and early orbit phase on 22 October, an extensive series of in-orbit commissioning activities started. During this near-Earth commissioning phase, which was concluded on 16 December, the European and Japanese mission teams performed tests to ensure the health of BepiColombo’s science instruments, its propulsion and other spacecraft platform systems.

    On 26 March 2019, a review board confirmed that the overall capabilities and performance at the end of the near-Earth commissioning phase meet the mission requirements.

    “We are very pleased with the performance of BepiColombo and proud of the work of all teams who made such a challenging mission a reality”, says Ulrich Reininghaus, ESA BepiColombo project manager.

    This marks the end of the commissioning activities, and the operations team can focus on routine operations and on preparations for the mission’s first planetary gravity assist next year.

    “BepiColombo has successfully passed its health check and is now officially in operations,” says ESA mission manager Patrick Martin.

    The mission comprises two science orbiters: ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). The ESA-built Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) will carry the orbiters to Mercury using a combination of solar electric propulsion and gravity assist flybys – one of Earth, two at Venus, and six at Mercury – prior to MPO and MMO orbit insertions.

    The first electric propulsion ‘arc’ started on 17 December, after verification of the four individual thrusters as well as the so-called ‘twin firing’ configuration, operating two thrusters in close proximity for a prolonged period of time, which was monitored closely by the operations engineers. The solar propulsion arc – the first in a series of 22 – was successfully completed in early March.

    “Solar electric propulsion is one of the key flight challenges of this complex mission, and we are very pleased to see the system now in full operation,” says Elsa Montagnon, BepiColombo spacecraft operations manager.

    2
    BepiColombo electric propulsion

    Since launch, BepiColombo has already covered over 450 million km – just about four percent of the total distance it will have to travel before arriving at Mercury at the end of 2025. The composite spacecraft is now some 50 million km from Earth, and telecommands take about three minutes to reach it.

    The near-Earth commissioning activities for all science instruments on both orbiters have been completed as planned, and both ground segments – on the operations and science sides – are ready to support the next chapter of the mission.

    3
    Earth flyby

    “Besides the health checks that were successfully executed on all instruments, several of them are already operated in full science mode. The instrument teams are ready to go,” says ESA project scientist, Johannes Benkhoff.

    In the coming weeks, the BepiColombo teams will investigate some remaining issues and carry out high-voltage related instrument checks while looking forward to the next major mission milestone, as the spacecraft will come back to some 11 000 km from Earth for a flyby on 13 April 2020.

    Later next year, in October, BepiColombo will perform the first of its two flybys of Venus – the second planned for August 2021. These will provide an exciting opportunity to operate some of the instruments on both orbiters and to collect scientifically valuable data to further study this fascinating planet while en route to the mission’s destination – Mercury.

    See the full article here .


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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 9:00 am on December 6, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    From European Space Agency: “BepiColombo now firing on all cylinders” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    From European Space Agency

    5 December 2018

    BepiColombo, the joint ESA/JAXA spacecraft on a mission to Mercury, is now firing its thrusters for the first time in flight.

    Artistic renditon of ESA/JAXA BepiColombo

    On Sunday, BepiColombo carried out the first successful manoeuver using two of its four electric propulsion thrusters. After more than a week of testing which saw each thruster individually and meticulously put through its paces, the intrepid explorer is now one step closer to reaching the innermost planet of the Solar System.

    BepiColombo left Earth on 20 October 2018, and after the first few critical days in space and the initial weeks of in-orbit commissioning, its [ESA] Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) is now revving up the high-tech ion thrusters.

    The most powerful and high-performance electric propulsion system ever flown, these electric blue thrusters had not been tested in space until now.

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    Twin ion thrusters firing. Two T6 gridded ion thrusters undergoing a joint test firing inside a vacuum chamber at QinetiQ in Farnborough, UK. BepiColombo’s Solar Electric Propulsion System has four T6 thrusters for redundancy, with one or two operating at one time. The two thrusters needed testing to check they could be operated in close proximity for prolonged periods without any harmful interactions. In space the plumes seen here would not be visible; they occur due to vestigial gases building up inside the chamber. The glow from the thrusters would be visible however.

    It is these glowing power-packs that will propel the two science orbiters – the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter – on the seven-year cruise to the least explored planet of the inner Solar System.

    “Electric propulsion technology is very novel and extremely delicate,” explains Elsa Montagnon, Spacecraft Operations Manager for BepiColombo.

    “This means BepiColombo’s four thrusters had to be thoroughly checked following the launch, by slowly turning each on, one by one, and closely monitoring their functioning and effect on the spacecraft.”

    3
    BepiColombo images high-gain antenna. ESA/BepiColombo/MTM , CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.
    The BepiColombo [ESA] Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) has returned its first image of the deployed high-gain antenna onboard the [ESA] Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO). The actual deployment took place earlier today, and was confirmed by telemetry.

    The back side of the high-gain antenna is clearly seen at the top of the image. The side of the MPO with the low-gain antenna, which protrudes from the side of the module, is also visible, together with some detail of the MPO’s multi-layered insulation. One of the hold-down release mechanisms of the MTM solar array is also seen between the antenna and the MPO. The dark outline in the top left corresponds to the inside of the MTM where the camera sits and looks out into space. A section of one of the solar arrays of the MTM is seen at the bottom of the image, together with a hold-down bracket on the yoke.

    The transfer module is equipped with three monitoring cameras, which provide black-and-white snapshots in 1024 x 1024 pixel resolution. This image was taken by the ‘M-CAM 3’ camera (click here to see the location and field of view of all three monitoring cameras.)

    The monitoring cameras will be used on various occasions during the cruise phase, notably during the flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury. While the MPO is equipped with a high-resolution scientific camera, this can only be operated after separating from the MTM upon arrival at Mercury in late 2025 because, like several of the 11 instrument suites, it is located on the side of the spacecraft fixed to the MTM during cruise.

    Testing took place during a unique window, in which BepiColombo remained in continuous view of ground-based antennas and communications between the spacecraft and those controlling it could be constantly maintained.

    This was the only chance to check in detail the functioning of this fundamental part of the spacecraft, as when routine firing begins in mid-December, the position of the spacecraft will mean its antennas will not be pointing at Earth, making it less visible to operators at mission control.

    The first fire

    On 20 November at 11:33 UTC (12:33 CET), the first of BepiColombo’s thrusters entered Thrust Mode with a force of 75 mN (millinewtons). With this BepiColombo was firing in space for the very first time.

    Three hours later, the newly awakened thruster was really put through its paces as commands from mission control directed it to go full throttle, ramping up to 125mN – equivalent to holding an AAA battery at sea level.

    This may not sound like much, but this thruster was now working at the maximum thrust planned to be used during the life of the mission.

    Thrust mode was maintained for five hours before BepiColombo transitioned back to Normal Mode. The entire time, ESA’s Malargüe antenna in Argentina was in communication with the now glowing blue spacecraft – the colour of the plasma generated by the thruster as it burned through the xenon propellant.

    ESA Malargüe Station is a 35-metre ESTRACK radio antenna in Argentina. It is located 40 kilometres south of the town of Malargüe, Argentina

    These steps were then repeated for each of the other three thrusters over the next days, having only a tiny effect on BepiColombo’s overall trajectory.

    The small effects that were observed allowed the Flight Dynamics team to assess the thruster performance in precise detail: analysis of the first two firings reveals that the spacecraft was performing within 2% of its expected value. Analysis of the last two firings is ongoing.

    “To see the thrusters working for the first time in space was an exciting moment and a big relief. BepiColombo’s seven year trip to Mercury will include 22 ion thrust arcs – and we absolutely need healthy and well performing thrusters for this long trip,” explains Paolo Ferri, ESA’s Head of Operations.

    “Each thruster burn arc will last for extended periods of up to two months, providing the same acceleration from less fuel compared to traditional, high-energy chemical burns that last for minutes or hours.”

    During each long-duration burn the engines do take eight hour pauses, once a week, to allow the ground to perform navigation measurements in quiet dynamic conditions.

    The first routine electric propulsion thrust arc will begin in mid-December, steering BepiColombo on its interplanetary trajectory and optimising its orbit ahead of its swing-by of Earth in April 2020.

    Travelling some nine billion kilometers in total, BepiColombo will take nine flybys at Earth, Venus and Mercury, looping around the Sun 18 times.

    4
    BepiColombo Earth flyby. Artist’s impression of the BepiColombo spacecraft in cruise configuration, flying past Earth and with the Sun in the background. After launch, BepiColombo will return to Earth two years later to make a gravity-assist flyby, before flying by Venus twice and Mercury six times before entering orbit around the innermost planet.

    In this view, the Mercury Transfer Module is at the rear, with its solar wings extended, spanning about 30 m from tip-to-tip. Because the arrays are tilted towards the Sun, the underside of the panels can be seen. The 7.5 m-long solar array of the Mercury Planetary Orbiter in the middle is seen extending to the top, with the high-gain antenna dish to the left, and the magnetometer boom and medium gain antenna to the right. The Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter [JAXA] sits inside the sunshield, its antenna folded inside and visible in this view.

    By late 2025 the transfer module’s work will be done: it will separate, allowing the two science orbiters to be captured by Mercury’s gravity, studying the planet and its environment, along with its interaction with the solar wind, from complementary orbits.

    “We put our trust in the thrusters and they have not let us down. We are now on our way to Mercury with electro-mobility,” concludes Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science.

    “This brings us an important step closer to unlocking the secrets of the mysterious innermost planet and ultimately, the formation of our Solar System.”

    Follow ESA Operations on twitter for updates on BepiColombo’s journey, as well as the latest from ESA’s mission control.

    See the full article here .


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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 1:47 pm on October 20, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Spaceflight: “Ariane 5 boosts BepiColombo mission enroute to Mercury” 

    NASA Spaceflight

    From NASA Spaceflight

    October 19, 2018
    Chris Bergin

    1

    ESA JAXA Bepicolumbo in flight illustration Artist’s impression of BepiColombo – ESA’s first mission to Mercury. ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) will be operated from ESOC, Germany

    Arianespace has conducted the opening part of the BepiColombo mission with the launch of the spacecraft on a flight to study Mercury. The launch was conducted by an Ariane 5 that lifted off at 01:45 UTC on Saturday from the European Spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana.

    BepiColombo is a joint mission of the European Space Agency [ESA] and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency [JAXA]. It was named in honor of Italian mathematician and engineer Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo.

    The mission has been delayed by about five years, although that is not uncommon for major flagship missions.

    BepiColombo consists of two orbiters: Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) and ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), both of which will be carried together by the Mercury Transport Module (MTM).

    ESA Bepicolumbo Mercury Planetary Orbiter

    JAXA BepiColombo Mercury Magnetosphere Orbiter

    While MPO will go into an approximately 400 x 1500 km mapping orbit around Mercury, MMO will enter a highly elliptical orbit to study the planet’s enigmatically strong magnetic field.

    A combination of spacecraft will be launched together, with the Mercury Composite Spacecraft (MCS) consisting of two orbiters: MMO, MPO; as well as two additional elements: MTM, the Magnetospheric Orbiter Sunshield and Interface Structure (MOSIF).

    The mission will undertake a seven year cruise to Mercury, using a combination of solar electric propulsion and nine gravity assist flybys at Earth, Venus and Mercury.

    The opening element of that journey involved a ride on the Ariane 5 rocket.

    This interplanetary mission comes hot on the heels of Ariane 5’s 100th flight, placing two telecommunications satellites into orbit in the process – which are the bread and butter missions for this launch vehicle.

    Designated VA245 in Arianespace’s launcher family numbering system, this was the 23rd major scientific mission performed by the company to date.

    3
    Launch profile via ESA

    The launch window for BepiColombo opened on 5 October and would have closed on 29 November 2018 – a window designed to ensure the trajectory and multiple planetary flybys and gravity assists needed to eventually insert BepiColombo into the orbit of Mercury can be achieved via planetary alignments of Earth, Venus, and Mercury.

    Based on an October 2018 launch, BepiColombo will perform the following flyby / planetary encounter sequence leading to orbit insertion at Mercury on 5 December 2025:

    Date Milestone
    6 April 2020 First (and only) Earth flyby
    12 October 2020 First Venus flyby
    11 August 2021 Second (and final) Venus flyby
    2 October 2021 First Mercury flyby
    23 June 2022 Second Mercury flyby
    20 June 2023 Third Mercury flyby
    5 September 2024 Fourth Mercury flyby
    2 December 2024 Fifth Mercury flyby
    9 January 2025 Sixth Mercury flyby
    5 December 2025 Mercury orbit insertion

    Ariane 5 lofted estimated payload mass of 4,241 kg from ELA-3, with spacecraft separation occurring 27 minutes into the flight.

    The carrier spacecraft will use a combination of electric propulsion – which has undergone steering tests on the ground – along with multiple gravity-assists to complete the 7.2 year journey to the Solar System’s mysterious innermost planet.

    The 22 cm-diameter T6 thruster was designed for ESA by QinetiQ in the UK, whose expertise in electric propulsion stretches back to the 1960s. The spacecraft built was led by Airbus, but involves numerous companies and countries.

    After arriving at Mercury, the modules will separate and from their respective orbits the science orbiters will make complementary measurements of Mercury’s interior, surface, exosphere and magnetosphere, following up on many of the open questions raised by NASA’s Messenger mission.

    BepiColombo will investigate properties of the innermost planet of our Solar System that are still mysterious, such as its high density, the fact that it is the only planet with a magnetic field similar to Earth’s, the much higher than expected amount of volatile elements detected by NASA’s Messenger probe and the nature of water ice that may exist in the permanently shadowed areas at the poles.

    NASA’s MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) spacecraft ended its mission in 2015 with a dramatic, but planned, event – crashing into the surface of the planet that it had been studying for over four years.

    NASA/Messenger satellite, ended its mission in 2015 with a dramatic, but planned, event – crashing into the surface of the planet that it had been studying for over four years.


    NASA Messenger satellite schematic, ended its mission in 2015 with a dramatic, but planned, event – crashing into the surface of the planet that it had been studying for over four years.


    NASA Messenger satellite, ended its mission in 2015 with a dramatic, but planned, event – crashing into the surface of the planet that it had been studying for over four years.

    The follow on information from BepiColombo will provide more data about the origin and evolution of a planet close to its parent star, providing a better understanding of the overall evolution of our own Solar System. The two orbiters will be providing a huge amount of data to scientists on Earth.

    MTM is equipped with three monitoring cameras, which provide black-and-white snapshots in 1024 x 1024 pixel resolution. One of the monitoring cameras is positioned on the MTM with a field of view looking up towards the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), which sits above.

    The MTM’s solar arrays are currently folded for launch, resulting in the presented image, but after their deployment the camera will have a clearer view. In particular, the MPO’s high-gain antenna will be in the field of view of the camera around one day after launch.

    The other two cameras are placed on the other side of the module: one will look down the extended solar array of the MTM, the other towards the MPO, capturing glimpses of the medium-gain antenna once deployed and, later, of the magnetometer boom.

    3
    MTM cameras via ESA

    The actual deployment of the solar arrays and antenna will be confirmed by telemetry data sent by the spacecraft after launch. Later, the monitoring cameras will be switched on. The first sets of images are planned to be taken around 12 hours and 1.5 days after launch and returned to Earth shortly after.

    The monitoring cameras will be used ad-hoc during the cruise phase, notably during the flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury.

    While the MPO is equipped with a high-resolution scientific camera, this can only be operated after separating from the MTM upon arrival at Mercury in late 2025 because, like several of the 11 instrument suites, it is located on the side of the spacecraft fixed to the MTM during the cruise phase.

    Nonetheless, it will be possible to operate or partially operate as many as eight of the 11 instruments on the MPO during the flybys, along with three of the five instrument packages onboard JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. This will afford some unique data collection opportunities at Venus, for example.

    BepiColombo carries enough propellant to potentially be extended for an additional year, resulting in two Earth years of observation around Mercury – or 8.2 Mercurian years.

    The follow on information from BepiColombo will provide more data about the origin and evolution of a planet close to its parent star, providing a better understanding of the overall evolution of our own Solar System. The two orbiters will be providing a huge amount of data to scientists on Earth.

    MTM is equipped with three monitoring cameras, which provide black-and-white snapshots in 1024 x 1024 pixel resolution. One of the monitoring cameras is positioned on the MTM with a field of view looking up towards the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), which sits above.

    The MTM’s solar arrays are currently folded for launch, resulting in the presented image, but after their deployment the camera will have a clearer view. In particular, the MPO’s high-gain antenna will be in the field of view of the camera around one day after launch.

    The other two cameras are placed on the other side of the module: one will look down the extended solar array of the MTM, the other towards the MPO, capturing glimpses of the medium-gain antenna once deployed and, later, of the magnetometer boom.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:39 am on March 16, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    From ESA: “Concentrated-BepiColumbo Operatons” 

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    European Space Agency

    Concentrated

    1
    Concentrated
    Released 15/03/2018
    Copyright ESA

    On 14 March, the BepiColombo flight control team at ESA’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, was joined by experts from the mission team at the Agency’s technical centre in the Netherlands as well as industry to conduct a ‘system validation test’.

    Such tests are critical milestones in getting a spacecraft, its onboard software, the ground systems and the mission control team ready to handle the real flight.

    This week, engineers connected their mission control systems to the actual spacecraft, which is now located at ESA’s technical centre, via telecom links, allowing them to ‘talk’ to BepiColombo just as they will after launch when it is in space en route to mercury.

    A modern spacecraft has 42 000 telemetry parameters and 2650 control parameters in its software – comparable to a mid-size jet aircraft – and hundreds of thousands of lines of code on board.

    BepiColombo, ESA’s first mission to Mercury, has two science craft: ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter, with 11 experiments and instruments, and Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, with five experiments and instruments.

    The spacecraft, along with ground equipment and mission experts, are set to start the move from the Netherlands to Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at the end of next month. The launch window is open from 5 October until 29 November.

    In the photo, in the foreground: Spacecraft Operations Engineer Emanuela Bordoni; centre, Deputy Spacecraft Operations Manager Christoph Steiger; at rear, Susanne Fugger, responsible for BepiColombo operations at Airbus Defence and Space, Germany.

    See this full article here .

    BepiColumbo Operatons

    How we fly BepiColombo

    ESA/JAXA Elements of the BepiColombo Mercury Composite Spacecraft. From left to right: Mercury Transfer Module (MTM), Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), Magnetospheric Orbiter Sunshield and Interface Structure (MOSIF), and Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).

    ESA JAXA Bepicolumbo in flight illustration Artist’s impression of BepiColombo – ESA’s first mission to Mercury. ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) will be operated from ESOC, Germany

    ESA’s first mission to Mercury – is based on two spacecraft: the ESA-led Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), a three-axis stabilised and nadir-pointing spacecraft with 11 experiments and instruments, and the JAXA-led Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), a spinning spacecraft carrying a payload of five experiments and instruments.

    The composite spacecraft will reach Mercury using a highly efficient, low thrust, electric propulsion system that will steadily propel it along a series of arcs around the Sun. With a launch in October 2018, the trajectory will also be modified by eight planetary flybys: of Earth in April 2020, Venus in 2020 and 2021, and then six times of Mercury itself between 2021 and 2025. BepiColombo will enter Mercury orbit in December 2025.

    The Misson

    Europe’s space scientists have identified the mission as one of the most challenging long-term planetary projects, as Mercury’s proximity to the Sun makes it difficult for a spacecraft to reach and survive in the harsh environment. Scientists are keen to go to Mercury for the valuable clues that such a mission can provide in understanding the planet itself as well as the formation of our solar system; clues which cannot be obtained with distant observations from Earth.

    The objectives of the mission are:

    Study the origin and evolution of a planet close to its parent star
    Study Mercury as a planet – its form, interior, structure, geology, composition and craters
    Investigate Mercury’s vestigial atmosphere (exosphere) – its composition and dynamics
    Study Mercury’s magnetised envelope (magnetosphere) – structure and dynamics
    Investigate the origin of Mercury’s magnetic field
    Confirm Einstein’s theory of general relativity

    MPO will study the surface and internal composition of the planet, while MMO will study Mercury’s magnetosphere, the region of space around the planet that is dominated by its magnetic field.

    The Flight Control Team

    The BepiColombo/MPO Flight Control Team (FCT) will operate the Mercury Planetary Orbiter from a Dedicated Control Room located at ESOC, ESA’s operations centre in Germany. Elsa Montagnon was appointed as Spacecraft Operations Manager (SOM) in December 2006.

    Under her lead, the team are now working on mission operations definition and building and testing the ground segment. In 2014-15, the team will conduct a series of System Validation Tests, connecting the newly installed mission control systems on ground with the satellite flight model as it undergoes integration and final testing. This enables the team to test and validate flight control procedures with the actual spacecraft.

    The FCT will be supported by specialist teams at ESOC from functional areas such as flight dynamics, ground facilities and tracking stations and mission data systems.

    Mission operations overview

    BepiColombo – ESA’s first mission to Mercury – is based on two spacecraft: the ESA-led Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), a three-axis stabilised and nadir-pointing spacecraft with 11 experiments and instruments, and the JAXA-led Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), a spinning spacecraft carrying a payload of five experiments and instruments.

    The composite spacecraft will reach Mercury using a highly efficient, low thrust, electric propulsion system that will steadily propel it along a series of arcs around the Sun. With a launch in October 2018, the trajectory will also be modified by eight planetary flybys: of Earth in April 2020, Venus in 2020 and 2021, and then six times of Mercury itself between 2021 and 2025. BepiColombo will enter Mercury orbit in December 2025.

    Europe’s space scientists have identified the mission as one of the most challenging long-term planetary projects, as Mercury’s proximity to the Sun makes it difficult for a spacecraft to reach and survive in the harsh environment. Scientists are keen to go to Mercury for the valuable clues that such a mission can provide in understanding the planet itself as well as the formation of our solar system; clues which cannot be obtained with distant observations from Earth.

    The BepiColombo/MPO Flight Control Team (FCT) will operate the Mercury Planetary Orbiter from a Dedicated Control Room located at ESOC, ESA’s operations centre in Germany. Elsa Montagnon was appointed as Spacecraft Operations Manager (SOM) in December 2006.

    Under her lead, the team are now working on mission operations definition and building and testing the ground segment. In 2014-15, the team will conduct a series of System Validation Tests, connecting the newly installed mission control systems on ground with the satellite flight model as it undergoes integration and final testing. This enables the team to test and validate flight control procedures with the actual spacecraft.

    The FCT will be supported by specialist teams at ESOC from functional areas such as flight dynamics, ground facilities and tracking stations and mission data systems.

    BepiColombo, one of the ‘cornerstones’ in ESA’s long-term science programme, presents enormous but exciting challenges. Apart from Venus Express, all of ESA’s previous interplanetary missions have been to relatively cold parts of the Solar System. BepiColombo will be the Agency’s first experience in sending a spacecraft so close to the Sun.

    The journey from Earth to Mercury will take some seven years. ESA is responsible for the overall mission design, and for the operation of the composite spacecraft up to the insertion of the MPO and MMO into their orbits.

    On its long way to Mercury, the spacecraft must brake against the Sun’s gravity, which increases with proximity to the Sun – rather than accelerate away from it, as is the case with journeys to the outer solar system. BepiColombo will accomplish this by conducting a series of planetary flybys and by using solar electric propulsion (SEP).

    A brief summary of the key stages in the journey to Mercury are given here:

    Launch on Ariane 5 on an escape trajectory to reach heliocentric orbit for Earth flyby after about 1.5 years
    Cruise trajectory using solar electric propulsion – the Solar Electric Propulsion Module (SEPM), up to 290 mN thrust – plus eight gravity assists: Earth, Venus (twice) and Mercury (six times)
    Approximate 7-year cruise phase to Mercury
    SEPM jettisoned shortly before arrival at Mercury
    Capture and insertion by chemical propulsion engines mounted on the MPO
    On reaching MMO orbit, MMO is released
    MPO is inserted into final orbit using thrust from chemical propulsion engines
    For MPO and MMO: one Earth year (four Mercury years) operations in Mercury orbit with optional one-year extension

    Ground Stations

    During the cruise, the team at ESOC in Darmstadt will coordinate operation of the full composite spacecraft using ESA’s 35 m-diameter deep-space tracking station, Cebreros, Spain, supported by the two other 35m stations in Argentina and Australia. Cebreros (DSA 2) will provide telecommanding visibility for some 8 hours daily; a cross-support agreement with JAXA ensures that the Japanese Usuda Deep Space Centre’s 64 m-diameter station can be also be used as back-up during critical phases and in case of problems.

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    Cebreros station
    Released 23/06/2005
    Copyright ESA
    ESA’s 35 m-diameter deep-space dish antenna, DSA-2, is located at Cebreros, near Avila, Spain. It is controlled, as part of the Estrack network, from ESOC, the European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany.

    JAXA Usuda 64 meter station


    Japan’s JAXA Sagamihara Space Operation Centre, using the Usuda station, in Nagano, will take over the operation of the MMO once it is in orbit around Mercury, while ESOC will remain in charge of the MPO spacecraft.

    See this full article here .

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 1:00 pm on December 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , ESA/JAXA BepiColombo, ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter, Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, Large Space Simulator, Mercury Transfer Module in space simulator   

    From ESA: “Mercury Transfer Module in space simulator” 

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    European Space Agency

    07/12/2017

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    ESA Large Space Simulator

    ESA-JAXA Elements of the BepiColombo Mercury Composite Spacecraft. From left to right Mercury Transfer Module (MTM)

    The BepiColombo Mercury Transfer Module has completed its final major test inside ESA’s Large Space Simulator, proving it will be able to withstand the temperature extremes it will experience on its journey to Mercury.

    On the one hand, the mission will be exposed to the cold vacuum of space. On the other, it will travel close to the Sun, receiving 10 times the solar energy than we do on Earth. This translates to about 11 kW per sq m at Mercury, with the spacecraft expected to endure heating to about 350ºC, similar to a pizza oven.

    Inside the simulator, the largest of its kind in Europe at 15m high and 10m wide, pumps create a vacuum a billion times lower than standard sea-level atmosphere, while the chamber’s walls are lined with tubes pumped with liquid nitrogen to create low temperatures of about –180ºC. At the same time, a set of 25kW IMAX projector-class lamps are used with mirrors to focus light onto the craft to generate the highest temperatures.

    During the latest tests, carried out between 24 November and 4 December 2017, the module was rotated through 13º either side to monitor the heating and distribution. The ion engines were also activated – without creating thrust from an ion beam given the confines of the test chamber – to confirm that the module’s electric propulsion system can operate in this challenging environment

    The module is seen here stacked on a replica interface to mimic the science orbiters that it will be attached to during launch and the 7.2 year journey to Mercury. The four ion thrusters are seen on the top of module in this orientation. Not present in this test, the module will also be equipped with two solar wings that will unfold to a span of 30 m.

    The transfer module’s job is to carry ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter to the planet, where they will separate and enter their respective orbits. The craft will use a combination of gravity assist flybys at Earth, Venus and Mercury along with the transfer module’s ion thrusters to reach its destination.

    ESA/JAXA Elements of the BepiColombo Mercury Composite Spacecraft. From left to right: Mercury Transfer Module (MTM), Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), Magnetospheric Orbiter Sunshield and Interface Structure (MOSIF), and Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).

    JAXA Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter

    The module will now be checked before the entire assembly is shipped to Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana next year. With this last major test complete, the mission is on track to be launched in the two-month window opening on 5 October 2018.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 12:55 pm on August 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , ESA/JAXA BepiColombo,   

    From Spaceflight Insider: “James Webb Space Telescope may be delayed again” 

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    Spaceflight Insider

    August 5th, 2017
    Joe Latrell

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    The much delayed and over budget next-generation James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has suffered another setback prior to its journey to the launch pad: the October 2018 launch may be in conflict with Europe’s BepiColombo mission to Mercury. Both spacecraft are to be flown on Ariane 5 boosters, but the spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana, cannot support two flights in the same month. BepiColombo has priority due to the tight launch window to reach Mercury. This will result in the JWST having its launch date pushed back to 2019 at the earliest.

    The James Webb Space Telescope

    The JWST is a space-based infrared telescope. To operate properly, it needs to maintain a temperature of 37 kelvins (–236 °C / –393 °F). In order to achieve this when in space, the telescope relies on a large tennis court sized sunshield to protect it from external heat and light sources, such as the Sun as well as the Earth and Moon.

    Light gathered from the segmented 6.5-meter (21-foot) diameter mirror is directed to the four science instruments: Fine Guidance Sensor / Near InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (FGS/NIRISS), Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI), Near InfraRed Camera (NIRCam), and Near InfraRed Spectrograph (NIRSpec). Due to the requirement of the MIRI to operate at an even lower temperature than the other science instruments, it will utilize a cryocooler to decrease its temperature to less than 7 kelvins (–266 °C / –447 °F).

    While smaller than telescopes here on Earth, the JWST is the most powerful space telescope ever constructed and is the science successor to the Hubble telescope.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    Originally projected to cost $1.6 billion, the telescope’s price tag has ballooned to over $8.8 billion. Several factors, from delays in choosing a launch vehicle to management issues, contributed to the soaring costs. Additionally, the vehicle proved harder to construct than originally envisioned. For example, during vibration testing, the spacecraft experienced several anomalies that required NASA engineers to stop the test. After analysis and modifications, the tests resumed and the JWST was given a clean bill of health.

    Despite the technical issues and threats of cancellation, the project continued and the cost estimates grew. A launch delay into 2019 will only add to that dollar figure.

    The BepiColombo mission

    ESA/JAXA BepiColombo


    ESA/JAXA Elements of the BepiColombo Mercury Composite Spacecraft. From left to right: Mercury Transfer Module (MTM), Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), Magnetospheric Orbiter Sunshield and Interface Structure (MOSIF), and Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).

    BepiColombo is a mission to explore the planet Mercury that is being conducted by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The mission is actually two spacecraft: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). The objective is a comprehensive study of Mercury, including the planet’s surface, magnetic field, and interior structure.

    The MPO is a solar-powered spacecraft carrying 11 scientific instruments. These instruments include laser altimeters, spectrometers, magnetometers, as well as several cameras. It has a mass of 1,150 kilograms (2,540 pounds) and is capable of producing 1,000 watts of power for onboard instruments.

    The MMO has a mass of 285 kilograms (628 pounds) and carries five scientific payloads. Built mostly by Japan, this spacecraft will study plasma particles including high-energy ions and electrons emanating from the planet. A third spacecraft, the Mercury Surface Element (MSE), a small lander craft, was removed due to budgetary issues.

    The two Mercury spacecraft are scheduled to arrive at the planet in 2025 after performing numerous flybys: one at Earth, two at Venus, and six at Mercury. The craft must launch sometime between October 5, 2018, and November 28, 2018, to reach the planet as scheduled.

    Both missions as slated to fly on the Ariane 5 booster. The 52-meter (171-foot) vehicle is capable of lifting over 10,500 kilograms (23,100 pounds) to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO).

    JWST chills in Chamber A

    Currently, the JWST is undergoing low-temperature checks at NASA Johnson Space Center’s Chamber A. The temperature of the chamber is steadily being reduced to approximately 20 kelvins (–253 °C / –424 °F) – the same temperature that the JWST will be when operating in space. These tests will validate that the JWST instruments can operate properly at the extremely low temperatures.

    Unlike Hubble, the JWST will be positioned at the Earth-Sun Lagrange point (L2) which is 1,500,000 kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth. That location is currently beyond NASA’s manned space capabilities; therefore, precluding the JWST from being serviced on orbit.

    LaGrange Points map. NASA

    See the full article here .

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    SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

    Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:53 am on July 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , ESA/JAXA BepiColombo,   

    From ESA: “Robot meets its masters” 

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    European Space Agency

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    Seen at ESA’s technical centre in the Netherlands, BepiColombo has completed its final tests in launch configuration, the last time it will be stacked like this before being reassembled at the launch site next year to begin its mission to Mercury.

    The day before a final media viewing on 6 July 2017, the flight controllers who will operate the robotic explorer had an opportunity to meet ‘their’ spacecraft for the first time.

    The team comprises the engineers and specialists dedicated to BepiColombo. They work at ESA’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, where teams of experts design and develop the facilities, networks and systems to send commands and receive scientific data from all types of missions.

    The visit is an important step to allow the controllers to see the spacecraft and receive briefings from the mission scientists and managers with whom they will work closely throughout the life of BepiColombo.

    The team, led by Spacecraft Operations Manager Elsa Montagnon, have been working for the past two years defining flight procedures, building up control systems and conducting the initial tests and rehearsals of procedures that will be used to control BepiColombo during its mission.

    More information.

    BepiColombo operations

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 1:45 pm on July 11, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , ESA/JAXA BepiColombo, ,   

    From ESA: “BepiColombo spacecraft modules stacked up in launch configuration” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    European Space Agency

    10/07/2017
    No writer credit

    1
    ESA–C. Carreau, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

    BepiColombo, a joint ESA and JAXA mission to Mercury, has completed its final tests in launch configuration, the last time it will be stacked like this before being reassembled at the launch site next year.

    The image was taken on 6 July, during a dedicated press event where media were invited to see BepiColombo in ESA’s test centre. In the coming weeks, the three spacecraft elements will be separated for a final set of tests.

    The Mercury Transfer Module is seen at the bottom of the stack, with one folded solar array visible to the right. When both solar arrays are deployed they span about 30 m. The module will use solar-electric propulsion as well as gravity assists at Earth, Venus and Mercury to carry two science orbiters to Mercury orbit.

    ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter is seen in the middle of the stack (with the folded solar array towards the left and antenna to the right). JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter sits at the top of the 6 m-high stack. During the cruise to Mercury it will be protected by the Magnetospheric Orbiter Sunshield and Interface Structure (MOSIF), which in this image is sitting on the floor to the right.

    ESA/JAXA BepiColumbo

    After arriving at Mercury, the modules will separate, and from their respective orbits the science orbiters will make complementary measurements of Mercury’s interior, surface, exosphere and magnetosphere, following up on many of the open questions raised by NASA’s Messenger mission.

    NASA/Messenger satellite

    The final tests completed with BepiColombo in the launch configuration – also with the MOSIF in place – were vibration tests to simulate the shaking conditions at launch. In the coming weeks the assembly will be dismantled and the individual modules will undergo final checks following the vibration test, including solar array deployment tests. In addition, the transfer module will undergo a thermal vacuum test to simulate the extreme environmental conditions expected during the cruise.

    The spacecraft is scheduled to leave Europe in March, with a launch from Kourou, French Guiana, anticipated in October 2018, and arrival at Mercury at the end of 2025.

    See here for the latest status update, and our video gallery for examples of some of the recent tests.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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