The joint European-Japanese project to send a spacecraft into orbit around Mercury has passed its first significant milestone, with the completion of a simulation flight into Mercury’s innermost planetary orbit.
Jan van Casteren is the BepiColombo project manager for the European Space Agency.
He said: “Bringing a spacecraft into Mercury orbit is the biggest challenge because of the thermal environment. It has temperatures on the outside that reach 400 degrees centigrade and that requires new technology for all the materials that are used on the outside of the spacecraft to sustain the heat.”
The BepiColombo space vessel will have to endure huge amounts of radiation and the European Space Agency’s test centre in the Netherlands had to be adapted to replicate Mercury’s harsh conditions.
The mission is due to blast off in 2014 and will take six years to reach its destination.