Twin Probes Suffer Engine Failure on Route to Mercury - Latest Global News

Twin Probes Suffer Engine Failure on Route to Mercury

For more than five years, a pair of space probes have been traveling through the solar system to reach the innermost planet Mercury and observe its extreme conditions. During its complex journey, the BepiColombo mission encountered a problem that resulted in its engines being unable to operate at full power, potentially jeopardizing the mission.

BepiColombo was launched in October 2018 as a joint mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), each providing an orbiter to explore the surface and interior of Mercury and the planet’s magnetic field. The two probes, consisting of ESA’s Mercury Planet Orbiter (MPO) and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetosphere Orbiter (MMO), were launched together on a single spacecraft and will each enter their respective orbits around Mercury in December 2025. The recent problem with BepiColombo’s propulsion system could risk its ability to complete the upcoming gravity assist.

The ESA-built BepiColombo transfer module, which is used to generate thrust, was unable to deliver enough electrical energy to the spacecraft’s engines before a planned maneuver on April 26, ESA said announced. In response, the mission team was able to restore the spacecraft’s thrust to about 90 percent of its previous level by May 7, but the transfer module’s available power is still less than it should be. As a result, BepiColombo’s full thrust still cannot be restored.

The team is currently attempting to maintain the current performance level of the spacecraft’s propulsion system while assessing how this will impact upcoming maneuvers. BepiColombo is scheduled to receive its fourth gravity assist from Mercury in September before its final insertion into orbit. During a gravity assist, the spacecraft uses Mercury’s gravity to slow itself and position itself to enter the planet’s orbit.

According to ESA, if the spacecraft maintains its current performance level, it may be able to reach Mercury in time for the planned gravity assist. The flight control team in Germany has also ensured that the spacecraft conducts additional ground station passes to closely monitor BepiColombo’s twin spacecraft and respond to any sudden problems. Team members also try to find the root cause of the problem.

BepiColombo is only the third spacecraft to visit Mercury; The sun’s gravity makes the planet so difficult to reach. The mission conducted its first flyby of the planet in October 2021 and returned with a beautiful result Close-up images of the solar system’s smallest planet. We hope this pair gets to Mercury and collects data on the solar system’s outsider planet.

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