Problems on the way to Mercury: BepiColombo mission lost thrust

The European-Japanese BepiColombo mission, which is heading to Mercury, has encountered technical problems. The spacecraft’s engines have lost the ability to operate at full thrust.

The arrival of BepiColombo to Mercury in the artist’s impression. Source: ESA/ATG

BepiColombo was launched in 2018. It is a bundle of two spacecraft (the European MPO and the Japanese MMO), as well as a flight module that should put them into orbit around Mercury. For this purpose, a set of electric rocket engines is installed on it, the energy for which is generated using solar panels.

Problems arose on April 26, when BepiColombo was supposed to begin its next maneuver. The flight module could not provide enough electricity to the spacecraft’s engines.

After receiving the telemetry, experts from ESA began to solve the problem. By May 7, they had restored BepiColombo’s thrust to about 90% of its previous level. However, the available power of the flight module is still lower than it should be. Therefore, full thrust cannot be restored yet.

Currently, experts are trying to assess how the reduction in thrust will affect the progress of the mission. According to preliminary estimates, while maintaining the current power level, BepiColombo should be able to arrive at Mercury in time for the fourth gravity maneuver. It is scheduled for September 5, 2024.

In the future, BepiColombo will have to perform two more gravitational maneuvers that will ensure entry into a permanent orbit around Mercury in December 2025. After that, the MPO and MMO devices will separate from the flight module and begin to carry out their scientific programs.

According to

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