December 20, 2016


In 2018, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency (JAXA) will launch two probes to Mercury on the BepiColombo mission to unlock the secrets of this mysterious world about which planetologists still have much to learn.

Mercury is the least well-known of the planets in our solar system. This is largely because its proximity to the Sun makes sending space probes there challenging. To learn more about Mercury, the European BepiColombo mission will be launching two probes in 2018—MPO (Mercury Planetary Orbiter) and MMO (Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter)—to reach orbit early in 2024. MPO will map the entire surface of the planet and study its inner composition and structure, while MMO will analyse its magnetic field and magnetosphere (the layer of a planet’s atmosphere where physical characteristics are governed by the magnetic field). Data gathered will provide new insights into the formation and evolution of ‘inner’ planets—planets orbiting close to their star—like our Earth.

The MPO probe is being developed by ESA and the MMO probe by JAXA. CNES is overseeing development of the French instruments on BepiColombo for all of the research laboratories involved in the mission—8 in all (IAS, IPGP, IRAP, LAM, LATMOS, LESIA, LPC2E and LPP), who are helping to design 6 of the 16 instruments.