After years of development, the BepiColombo spacecraft which will be heading to Mercury has, at last, taken to the air.
On April 23, 2018, the first elements of the BepiColombo hardware were loaded into an Antonov An-124 cargo plane for transport from Amsterdam´s Schiphol Airport to the European Spaceport Kourou in French Guiana. After a fueling stop in the Azores Islands, the Antonov is expected to arrive at this destination on April 24. This Antonov flight was the first of four flights that are required to transport the spacecraft as well as all of the crucial handling and test equipment to Kourou. The flights are supported by three transports by ship for the additional items.
Having completed a comprehensive test program at European Space Agency´s Technology Center ESTEC in Noordwijk (The Netherlands) the BepiColombo spacecraft is almost ready for launch. Between May and October 2018, the final launch preparations will be performed in order for the spacecraft to be launched aboard an Ariane 5 ECA.
BepiColombo is Europe's first mission to Mercury and will set off in autumn 2018 (launch window is open from October 5 to November 29) on a journey to the smallest and least explored terrestrial planet in the Solar System. When BepiColombo arrives at Mercury in late 2025, the spacecraft will endure temperatures in excess of 350 °C while gathering data during the satellite's one year nominal mission, with a possible one year extension.
BepiColombo is an interdisciplinary mission performed in a partnership between ESA (European Space Agency) and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). The BepiColombo mission involves the delivery of the MPO (Mercury Planetary Orbiter) and the MMO (Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter) to complementary orbits around the planet Mercury. JAXA provides the MMO, while Airbus is prime contractor for ESA, providing the MPO and all other spacecraft hardware. The scientific payload is provided by national agencies.