BepiColombo: Portuguese help on mission to Mercury


A mission to the smallest planet of the solar system was launched a few hours ago, which is also the closest planet to our star, and this mission has not only the support of a Portuguese company, but also a Portuguese scientist.

The science team to our neighbor planet, Mercury, has a Portuguese Scientist on it, the Astrophysic Joana S. Oliveira, and also counts with the support of a Portuguese company, Efacec, which is responsible for the creation and development of an electronic system that is responsible for the monitoring of space radiation during the trip.

The mission, named BepiColombo, results of the cooperation between the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) and the European Space Agency (ESA), which consists on the launch of two probes from the Kourou base in French Guiana, to be transported by the Ariane 5 Rocket, and it is estimated that these probes will orbit the planet closest to the Sun for about 7 years, with an ESA probe studying its surface, inside and outside the atmosphere, known as Exosphere , and another analyzing the planet’s Magnetosphere.

Researcher Joana S. Oliveira, told Lusa, that this new Mercury mission is very important because it represents a piece of the puzzle of the evolution of our Solar System, and will help us to better understand it, since Mercury is, as the Earth, one of the only rocky planets that has a magnetic field based in a dynamo mechanism in its liquid core.

The study and better understanding of how this magnetic field works, represents a big step, since it will help us to better understand the evolution of our planet’s magnetic field, which Is our biggest defense against the harmful solar radiation. Although the MESSENGER probe, the NASA probe that has orbited the first planet in the solar system for four years, has been a breakthrough and has answered some questions, it left some questions unanswered, which this new mission pretends to answer.

The Joana explained that in the early mission, the probe had to put some distance from the planet from time to time so it could get colder, using an elliptical orbit that prevented the carrying out come crucial measurements, to the south hemisphere of the planet, and due to the same factor, the mapping of the magnetic rocky field, was also very limited in terms of latitude.

The equipment product, developed and tested by Efacec, is integrated into the ESA probe and has the ability to detect the impact of particles such as protons and electrons, distinguishing the particles and determining the range of energies in which they are found, and by measuring the amount of such particles, it will permit the probe to turn of sensitive modules during the periods of bigger solar activity, then prolonging the life of the electronic modules of the probe.

The mission will gather data from the planet for at least one year, and its name came has an homage to the Italian mathematician and engineer Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo, who investigated the planet and lived between 1920 and 1984.