The launch of BepiColombo, an ESA mission to explore the planet Mercury in collaboration with the Japanese space agency, JAXA, is now planned to take place during a one month long window starting on 27 January 2017.
BepiColombo is an ambitious mission comprising two separate orbiters, the ESA-led Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the JAXA-led Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), as well as a carrier spacecraft, known as the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM).
In recent months, all three spacecraft have passed important milestones, with the successful completion of MPO thermal vacuum tests at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands, and MMO environmental tests, in Japan, at the end of 2014. In February, the first mating of the MTM and MPO flight modules at ESTEC took place smoothly. These two spacecraft will soon be joined by the MMO, which is due to arrive at ESTEC next month.
During this period, a major review of BepiColombo – the Mission Critical Design Review – took place. This review, which examined all aspects of the design of the mission, was successfully completed on 25 March.
One aspect of the mission that was examined during the review period was the launch of BepiColombo, which had been targeted for a window opening in July 2016. However, as the result of delays in the procurement of critical units and the availability of some payloads, a decision was taken to opt for a later launch opportunity in order to minimise the operational risk to this ambitious dual mission.