The new European space mission reveals secrets of Mercury
BepiColombo, the joint mission of the European and Japanese space agencies (ESA and JAXA), will take orbiters to the smallest and least explored planet of our solar system – Mercury. The rocket that was launched from the French Guiana on October 20 is carrying two satellites that will make it to Mercury in seven years.
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and exploring it will help understand how planets like Earth evolve and what the conditions that enable life in different parts of the Solar System are.
Finnish technology will also reach Mercury
Preparing Europe’s first Mercury mission BepiColombo was quite challenging because of the especially high temperature and radiation that come from being so close to the Sun. Another difficult task was making sure that when moving towards Mercury, the space craft is able to deal with the Sun’s strong gravity.
BepiColombo carries a planetary and a magnetospheric orbiter. There are five research instruments on the magnetospheric orbiter and 11 on the planetary one. The University of Helsinki has been part of developing two instruments for the planetary orbiter. First is the Mercury Imaging X-Ray Spectrometer (MIXS) and second is the Solar Intensity X-ray Spectrometer (SIXS) of which our northern neighbours were the main developers. The names of the instruments fit the mission’s goal to find answers about the yet little explored planet: MIXS (miksi) is Finnish for ‘Why’? and SIXS (siksi) is Finnish for ‘That’s Why’.
Younger Generation Gives Hope for the Future
Director of the UT Tartu Observatory Anu Reinart was also invited to be part of the delegation observing the launch of BepiColombo. Reinart is a member of ESA's Science Programme Committee (SPC).
Reinart stated that at the moment, it is difficult for Estonia to participate in ESA’s exploration missions because it takes about 10 to 15 years to prepare for those whereas our funding scheme can only allow small activities that last for a few years.
„Without an action programme that would concentrate our human and monetary resources, we might always be the bystanders and cheap subcontactors,“ Reinart said. „At the same time, a new generation of talented young people has evolved, and they need new ambitious challenges to fulfill the goal of the Estonian space programme: to be one of the towers of strenght that would help form Estonia into a high technology state.“
Anu Reinart, anu.reinart [ät] ut.ee