This illustration shows the BepiColombo dual-spacecraft approaching Mercury, where the two orbiters will separate and study the planet from their dedicated orbits. With its solar wings deployed, the spacecraft is 98 feet long (30 meters). ESA
Wanna watch a rocket launch to Mercury? It happens tonight when the joint European-Japanese BepiColombo mission blasts off at 8:45 p.m. (Central Time) from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Live transmission starts a half-hour before at 8:15 p.m. See it happen before your eyes here.
This is Europe’s first mission to Mercury and comes on the heels of America’s MESSENGER spacecraft, the first probe to orbit the innermost planet (2011-2015) and map it in detail. You wouldn’t think it would take too long to get to Mercury since it’s only about 48 million miles away (Jupiter’s almost half a billion!), but to you have to decelerate a spacecraft for it to “fall” inwards toward the sun, and you have to do it without packing excessive amounts of fue. That’s where other planets can lend a helping hand, er, kick.
You’ll get dizzy watching, but here’s an animation of BepiColombo’s trajectory from Oct. 20, 2018 to Nov. 2, 2025. The spacecraft is the pink path. ...