Sometime between October 5 and November 29, the BepiColombo mission will launch a spacecraft to Mercury, and engineers are now busy preparing for this seven-year journey by conducting simulations to ensure that the launch and trip go according to plan.
With so many variables to consider and things that could go disastrously wrong, it is of crucial importance that engineers perform these simulations to determine potential problems and issues before they actually arise, as Space reports.
As BepiColombo operations manager Elsa Montagnon eloquently explained, the list of items that could fail is both long and extremely varied.
“The failures can be anything. The failures can be a problem on the spacecraft, a problem on the ground, it can be a problem with computers, a problem with ground software, communication lines, ground stations, control rooms here, it can even be a problem with the operators themselves.”
It is for this reason that scientists are using a model of the spacecraft that will be traveling to Mercury and performing their simulations to learn well in advance what kind of challenges the mission could be facing.
The BepiColombo Mercury mission is a joint venture between the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA) that will help scientists learn more about the enigmatic planet’s magnetosphere, atmosphere, and geology.
Mercury is the closest planet to the sun and has close to no atmosphere. Its days are spent in blistering heat of 800 degrees Fahrenheit (430 degrees Celsius), hot enough to turn lead into a messy puddle, while its nights are cloaked in the absolute freezing temperatures of -280 degrees Fahrenheit (-170 degrees Celsius), which just happens to be colder than any temperature that has ever been recorded here on Earth.
Meanwhile, the length of time it takes the planet to complete a full cycle of just one day and night would be the equivalent of 58 days here on Earth. Its level of gravity? Just 38 percent the gravity of Earth.
When a model of the BepiColombo spacecraft was tested over the spring, it was subjected to being toasted, frozen, and then vibrated to make sure that it was fit enough to withstand the long and arduous journey to Mercury, according to Newsweek.
Electric propulsion will help to move the spacecraft along with the help of gravity from Earth, Venus, and Mercury. By 2025, the spacecraft will have reached its final destination.
Once it reaches Mercury, it will then break into two completely independent orbiters – Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) and Europe’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO).
With so much still left for scientists to learn about the planet’s interior, surface, and exosphere, once seven years have elapsed and the BepiColombo mission has reached Mercury, we will be in a position of much greater knowledge about this mysterious planet.