Electronics Production | January 21, 2008
Astrium & ESA sign contract for Mercury probe
Astrium is set to build the Mercury probe BepiColombo on behalf of the European Space Agency, ESA.
Representatives of ESA and of Astrium, Europe’s largest space company, have signed a main industrial contract for the mission to the innermost planet of the solar system. The contract is worth 350.9 million euros. BepiColombo is scheduled to begin its journey to Mercury in 2013, and is considered to be the most sophisticated scientific mission in the history of European space exploration to date. BepiColombo will consist of three modules: a European orbiter, a Japanese orbiter and a transfer module carrying the two spacecraft to Mercury. The complete unit will have a height of approximately five metres and a mass of about three tonnes, of which about 50% is propellant. The European “Mercury Planetary Orbiter” (MPO) will be equipped with eleven scientific instruments. Flying in a polar orbit, it will study Mercury for at least a year, imaging the planet’s surface, generating height profiles, and collecting data on Mercury’s composition and atmosphere. The Japanese “Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter” (MMO) will investigate the planet’s magnetic field with its five on-board instruments. Astrium in Germany leads an industrial team whose core members include Astrium Ltd in the UK and Thales Alenia Space in Italy. Astrium in Friedrichshafen is responsible for the entire “three-section” spacecraft, Including attitude and orbit control design and development. The integration of the engineering model of BepiColombo will take place in Friedrichshafen. Astrium in the UK is responsible for the structure of the entire spacecraft including the launch vehicle adapter, the complex mission analysis that will require numerous swing-bys of the Earth, the moon, and Venus in its six year flight plan, and also the two chemical propulsion systems and the ion propulsion system. Astrium in France will develop the on-board software, building on experience gained from the Rosetta, Mars Express and Venus Express probes which are already in space.