BepiColombo is heading to Mercury to learn about our smallest planet
BepiColombo is heading to Mercury to learn about our smallest planet
5:21

BepiColombo is heading to Mercury to learn about our smallest planet

Science
Tonight. BepiColombo. One mission, two spacecraft, and a seven-year plan to learn everything we possibly can about Mercury. Like, how did our solar system form? What's the deal with Mercury's magnetosphere? And why is the first child in the solar system always such an Over-acheiver, I'm Claire Reilly, welcome to Watch This Space. [MUSIC] From the C-Net Studios here in Sydney, this is your weekly guide to everything on Earth you need to know about space. And tonight, we're looking at Bebby Columbo The mission that says, well, if we're gonna send a mission to Mercury, it might as well have a flipping sweet name. BepiColombo is a joint European-Japanese mission to investigate the sun's first and, no doubt, favorite child, Mercury. Think of it kind of like a spin-off of the original Columbo TV series but, in this case, the detective is a 4,000 kilogram composite space craft flying towards Mercury on a mission to solve the ultimate who-done-it. Who done formed our solar system and how it done happened. The mission is actually named after Italian mathematician and engineer, Giuseppe Bepi Colombo, who first explained Mercury's curious rotation pattern. It spins on its axis three times for every two orbits around the sun because it is such a show-off. Now NASA has been to Mercury previously. First in 1974 and then later with the Messenger spacecraft, which entered the planets orbit in 2011. How did one end again? It ran out of fuel and crashed down on the planets surface. Yikes. But we haven't seen much of Mercury since then. It's kind of like our neighbor two doors down you know. We know it's there, but we like to avoid eye contact especially when we're taking our recyclable's on bin night. Bepi Colombo is a joint mission between The European Space Agency and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency of JAXA. The ESA's been around since 1975 but JAXA's a relative baby in the space game It was forged from a group of other agencies in 2003, but it's been busy since then. Launching satellites and sending spacecraft like the [UNKNOWN] two to land on asteroids which its done a cheeky three times now. The air send [UNKNOWN] are no doubt looking across at NASA with its moon landing and its 60th anniversary thought the Americans can't have all the fun. So they joined forces with [UNKNOWN] Columbo. And because there's two space agencies involved and no one wanted to fight over the spaceship controllers back here on Earth, the BepiColombo mission actually includes two spacecraft. ESA's Mercury Planetary Orbiter, or MPO, and JAXA's Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, or MMO. Double your fun on the way to the sun. The spacecraft were launched on October 20, 2018 on board the ESA built Mercury Transfer Module. That's a mouthful, but think of it kind of like an RV that the two spacecraft are gonna hitch a ride on to Mercury. Jackson bought the snacks and EAS bought the music, which is why we can only assume that they're gonna be listening to Croft Work in the final countdown. Essay has been going through a real glam rock phase recently. Probably why they wanna go to Mercury. [SOUND] Together the two space craft will tell us more about Mercury's geology and craters, the extreme conditions it encounters on its elliptical orbit. And the origin of its magnetic field and how it interacts with solar wind. And then of course there's a question of whether Mercury has a solid or liquid core, or whether it's filled with some kind of delicious honeycomb. More importantly, like any child that's never moved away from its overbearing parents, the mission will also study how Mercury evolved being so close to its overbearing stage mom of a star, the sun. Because the sun's overwhelming embrace is so darn hot. Bepi Colombo has state of the art high temperature coatings and insulation. The NPO also has a radiator to help avoid overheating. While the MMO will use a special spinning technique as travels. Helping the space craft to stay cool while it's twirling, twirling, towards freedom And ion thrusters will help BepiColombo push back against the sun's gravity pull, because, mom, I need some space! But why do we care about Mercury, anyway? I mean, it's not like we're gonna move there like we are with Mars, right? Come on ESA and JAXA, stop trying to make Mercury happen. Well, no, it turns out Mercury is important because it's so darn unusual. It's close to the sun, but one side of the planet is frozen over. Why is it so dense? And, based on the images that Messenger took of wrinkles on the planet's surface, why the hell is Mercury shrinking? Experts say Mercury could have originated further out in our solar system, and that a collision with the proto-Earth or proto-Venus could be what robbed it of so much of its original rock. So Mercury is a wrinkly, shrinking little planet living too close to its parent and it was robbed of its rock inheritance when its two siblings got into a fight when they were younger. I mean some might say that I'm pushing this metaphor too hard. Too hard but I think we've nailed it. [UNKNOWN] Columbo has a busy few years ahead. It's set to fly by earth in 2020 before flying by Venus. Flying by again flying by Mercury six times. Geez get a move on [UNKNOWN]. And then finally orbiting Mercury in 2026, and after about a year or so in orbit. That's where the [UNKNOWN] rally will end. But not before its told us a whole bunch more about old shrinky wrinkles. All right, that's it for this week's episode of Watch This Space. We'll be taking a break next week, but we'll be back on November 16. And in the mean time, if you've enjoyed this week's episode, please click Like on your remote and subscribe to get more space news as it happens. I'm Claire Allicosina, good night and God speed.

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