The European Space Agency (ESA) will be conducting its first mission to the planet Mercury in 2017, dubbed BepiColombo. As part of an open house for the public earlier this month, the ESA put the three spacecraft that will be used in the mission on display. The two orbiters and one electric propulsion module are still in testing, so they remained enclosed in glass in cleanroom conditions during the public viewing.
The image above shows the ESA had the crafts on display. The agency explains that under the blue light lies the ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter, which will be tasked with studying the planet’s surface and internal composition. In red is the Mercury Transfer Module, also build by the ESA, and used to carry the two orbiters to their destinations. While in green is Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, which will conduct studies on Mercury’s magnetic field.
The ESA describes the mission to “the smallest and least explored terrestrial planet in our Solar System” as one that follows in the spirit of ESA’s Mariner 10 and NASA’s Messenger missions. While Mars and Pluto have been the focus recently of a number of NASA projects, it’ll be interesting to see if anything new comes from the study of the planet closest to the Sun.
Earlier this summer the ESA narrowed down three possible future projects, including studies of exoplanets, plasma physics, and the X-ray Universe. The selected proposal will become on of the ESA’s medium-class missions scheduled for the next ten years, with a possible launch in the year 2025.