The BepiColombo mission is touring to Mercury powered by ion thruster engines constructed into the Mercury Switch Module element seen on the backside of this artist’s depiction.
Credit score: ESA/ATG medialab
On Dec. 2, the spacecraft used two of its ion thrusters to make its first maneuver — a process that got here after weeks of cautious testing. The success implies that probably the most highly effective electric-propulsion engine system ever to discover house is now up and working.
“Electric propulsion technology could be very novel and intensely delicate,” Elsa Montagnon, Spacecraft Operations Supervisor for BepiColombo, mentioned in a statement released by ESA. “This implies BepiColombo’s 4 thrusters needed to be completely checked following the launch, by slowly turning every on, one after the other, and carefully monitoring their functioning and impact on the spacecraft.”
The workforce additionally wanted to slot in that testing through the time when the spacecraft would all the time be seen from and level its antennae towards Earth in order that they might correctly monitor the exams. In mid-December, the thrusters will start the sequence of 22 lengthy burns that will probably be essential for it to reach Mercury. All the journey will cowl 5.6 billion miles (9 billion kilometers).
BepiColombo’s highly effective ion thrusters are situated on the Mercury Switch Module, which is ferrying the mission’s two science orbiters to Mercury. As soon as the meeting arrives in 2025, the three spacecraft will separate and the orbiters will bid farewell to the electric engines and their eerie blue glow.