Launch Date October 2018
Launch Site Guiana Space Centre, Kourou, French Guiana
Destination Mercury
Type Orbiter
Status In Development
Nation Europe / Japan
Alternate Names Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO)


BepiColombo will use two orbiters to study Mercury from unique vantage points—Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). This will be the first missions to Mercury for the European Space Agency and Japan.


The spacecraft are in development.

Key Dates

October 2018: Launch

2025: Mercury Orbit Insertion

In Depth

BepiColombo, an ESA mission in cooperation with Japan, will explore Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun. Europe's space scientists have identified the mission as one of the most challenging long-term planetary projects, because Mercury's proximity to the Sun makes it difficult for a spacecraft to reach and survive in the harsh environment. The scientific interest to go to Mercury lies in the valuable clues that such a mission can provide in understanding the planet itself as well as the formation of our solar system; clues which cannot be obtained with distant observations from Earth.

BepiColombo will be the third mission to visit the planet Mercury. NASA's Mariner 10, flew past Mercury three times in 1974-5 and returned the first close-up images of the planet. NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft will enter Mercury orbit in March of 2011, and already has returned many images of the planet, as well as data. The information gleaned when BepiColombo arrives will throw light not only on the composition and history of Mercury, but also on the history and formation of the inner planets in general, including the Earth.

The mission will consist of two separate spacecraft that will orbit the planet. ESA is building one of the main spacecraft, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), and the Japanese space agency ISAS/JAXA will contribute the other, the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).

The Mercury Planetary Orbiter will study the surface and internal composition of the planet, and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter will study Mercury's magnetosphere, that is the region of space around the planet that is dominated by its magnetic field.

Technological Challenges:

With two spacecraft, BepiColombo is a large and costly mission, one of the 'cornerstones' in ESA's long-term science program. The mission presents enormous, but exciting challenges. All of ESA's previous inter-planetary missions have been to relatively cold parts of the solar system. BepiColombo will be the Agency's first experience of sending spacecraft to 'hot' regions.

After launch into a geostationary transfer orbit, the Mercury Composite Spacecraft will be boosted to the phasing orbit using chemical propulsion. From here the spacecraft will be set on its interplanetary trajectory through a flyby of the Moon. On its way to Mercury, the spacecraft must brake against the Sun's gravity, which increases with proximity to the Sun, rather than accelerate away from it, as is the case with journeys to the outer solar system. BepiColombo will accomplish this by making clever use of the gravity of the Earth, Venus and Mercury itself and by using solar electric propulsion (SEP). This innovative combination of low thrust space propulsion and gravity assist has been demonstrated by ESA's technology mission, SMART-1.

When approaching Mercury, the spacecraft will use the planet's gravity plus conventional rocket engines to insert itself into a polar orbit. A special Weak Stability Boundary Capturing technique is employed. This gives flexibility and is more robust against failures compared to using the more traditional "big kick" approach (single burn capture). The Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter will be released into its operational orbit, then the Sunshield and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter interface structure will be separated, while the chemical propulsion system will bring the Mercury Planetary Orbiter to its lower orbit. Observations from orbit will continue for one Earth year.


Launch Vehicle: Ariane 5

Spacecraft Mass: 9,040 pounds (4,100 kilograms)

Spacecraft Instruments

Mercury Planetary Orbiter: 520 kg
Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter: 250 kg

Mercury Planetary Orbiter:

  1. Cameras
  2. Spectrometers (IR, UV, X-ray, neutron)
  3. Radiometer
  4. Laser altimeter
  5. Magnetometer
  6. Particle analysers
  7. Ka-band transponder
  8. Accelerometer

Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter:

  1. Magnetometer
  2. Ion spectrometer
  3. Electron energy analyser
  4. Cold and energetic plasma detectors
  5. Plasma wave analyser
  6. Imager

Spacecraft Power:

Solar Panels

Max Power:

Mercury Planetary Orbiter: 600 W
Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter: 325 W

Antenna Diameter:

Mercury Planetary Orbiter: 1.0 M
Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter: 0.8 m

Max Data Rate:

Mercury Planetary Orbiter: 50 kb/s
Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter: 5 kb/s

Additional Resources

European Space Agency: BepiColombo

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency: BepiColombo

National Space Science Data Center Master Catalog: BepiColombo

Solar System News