Last week, an ambitious European-Japanese space mission took off on a seven-year journey to Mercury — our solar system’s innermost and least explored planet.
Dubbed BepiColombo, the intrepid spacecraft has already gotten in touch with Europe’s mission control center in Darmstadt, Germany, to send back a few charming self-portraits from space, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced yesterday.
Described by the ESA as BepiColombo’s “first space selfies,” the snapshots were taken shortly after the October 19 launch. The images in question capture elements of the spacecraft and of Europe’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO).
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the BepiColombo mission also includes a third spacecraft — namely Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). The two orbiters are riding comfortably inside BepiColombo the mothership — also known as the Mercury transfer module — which will deploy them in the planet’s orbit in late 2025.
Unveiled on October 22, the BepiColombo space selfies were captured by three cameras onboard the transfer module. These instruments go by the name of “monitoring cameras” — or M-CAMs — and are designed to take black-and-white photos with a resolution of 1024-by-1024 pixels.
“The M-CAM 1 camera imaged one of the deployed solar wings of the transfer module (left), while M-CAM 2 and M-CAM 3 captured the medium- and high-gain antennas on the MPO (center, and right, respectively), along with other structural elements of the spacecraft,” ESA officials explained in the photo release.
The BepiColombo spacecraft is fitted with two 50-foot solar arrays that were deployed a few hours after launch. These solar wings will serve to harvest sunlight and to generate power. Meanwhile, the antennas onboard ESA’s orbiter will be used to relay communications and to beam back the scientific data gathered during the mission.
Sadly, the Japanese orbiter isn’t featured in BepiColombo’s historic first photos, as the MMP is packed “inside a protective sunshield on ‘top’ of the MPO,” notes the space agency.
Throughout the long cruise to Mercury, the M-CAMs will have more than enough opportunities to capture mesmerizing views from space. The cameras are expected to chronicle the mission’s progress through spectacular photos, particularly during the highly-anticipated flybys of Earth, Venus, and Mercury.
Before finally settling into an observational orbit above Mercury, the BepiColombo spacecraft will travel a total of 5.6 billion miles and will perform nine planetary flybys — one of Earth, two of Venus, and six of Mercury.
— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) October 19, 2018
As a side note, the European orbiter is equipped with its own scientific camera. However, the instrument is currently rendered inoperable by its location onboard the MPO.
The camera is attached on the side of the orbiter, one that will remain fixed to the transfer module for the duration of the spaceflight. This means that it can only be turned on once the spacecraft reaches its final destination — when the MPO separates from the BepiColombo mothership.