BepiColombo has set off on its seven-year journey towards Mercury. The joint-mission between ESA and JAXA, the Japanese space agency, was launched in the early hours of Saturday aboard an Ariane-5, from Kourou, in French Guyana.
Europe’s first mission to Mercury will provide the best understanding of the planet to date, from the structure and dynamics of its magnetosphere to its internal structure with its large iron core, and the origin of its magnetic field. It will also make global maps of the surface elemental and chemical composition.
This data will enable scientists to understand more about the origin and the evolution of the planet and a better understanding of the overall evolution of our Solar System.
The mission is named after the Italian mathematician and engineer Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo (1920–84), known for explaining Mercury’s characteristic of rotating about its own axis three times in every two orbits of the Sun.
To know more about what is happening behind the scenes of such an important space mission Euronews spoke exclusively with Bepi Colombo’s Flight Director Andrea Accomazzo, who is working at ESA’s ESOC mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
Accomazzo was also the flight director of the Rosetta mission. After a 10-year journey through Space, in 2014, the ESA spacecraft was able to land the small probe Philae on the comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, when it was more than 400 million kilometres from Earth.
Euronews: What exactly do we want to find out about the planet Mercury?
Accomazzo: Mercury is a mystery from a planetary point of view. Nobody can explain the way it is with the Sun that close. By understanding it, we hope to understand better the rest of our Solar system.
Euronews: What are your tasks as Flight Director of the Bepi Colombo mission?
Accomazzo: As a Flight director my main task is to make sure all teams work in a harmonised way towards a common goal. Should we come to a point not covered by our procedures or disagreement on how to proceed, then the final decision is for me.
Euronews: Among your responsibilities which is the most exciting and which one is the most demanding?
Accomazzo: Having to take a decision with limited time and information is at the same time the most exciting and challenging task of my job.
Euronews: Once Bepi Colombo will arrive at its final destination, what will be the delay in communications with the Earth ?
Accomazzo: The radio signal delay at Mercury will vary between 5 and 11 minutes.
Euronews: What are the elements to take into account in order to calculate the trajectory and the entry into orbit considering the huge attraction of the Sun?
Accomazzo: The orbital mechanics towards and at Mercury is the same as for the rest of the Solar System. It sounds funny but the big task of the seven years cruise phase is to slow down enough to actually fall down to Mercury. It is really hard to provoke this fall given all the energy we have when we start from the Earth.
Euronews: What has been the contribution of the Japanese Space Agency to this mission?
Accomazzo: The colleagues at JAXA have provided one of the two orbiters we will deliver at Mercury. It will provide complementary science data to the ones of the ESA orbiter.
Euronews: Beyond the technical and scientific aspects, compared to the Rosetta mission, what are the main differences for you on a personal level?
Accomazzo: Rosetta was my first project and went through all the phases and roles. Bepi Colombo is the project of my professional maturity as a manager. The emotional part is not the same, I have to be honest.
Euronews: Are you superstitious in the key moments of a mission?
Accomazzo: As for all mission we have anecdotes and good luck actions, but I prefer to keep them for myself. They would lose their value if I were to reveal them ;-)
Euronews: October 20, and there's one second to go until the end of the countdown. What's the last thing you'll think before Arianne 5 takes off?
Accomazzo: GO, GO, GO for the sky, little baby. We will take care of you.