BepiColombo spacecraft encounters a glitch on its way to Mercury

An artist's illustration of BepiColombo spacecraft en route to Mercury
An artist’s illustration of the BepiColombo spacecraft en route to Mercury. Here the extended solar wings of its transfer module are seen, spanning about 30 m from tip-to-tip. (Image credit: spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Mercury: NASA/JPL)

The BepiColombo spacecraft has encountered a glitch on its way to Mercury that is preventing the spacecraft’s thrusters from operating at full power.

It is the most advanced spacecraft to date to explore Mercury. The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at Mercury in December 2025.

BepiColombo is a joint mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). BepiColombo consists of two orbiters and one transfer module.

ESA provided BepiColombo’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) to map the planet, and JAXA provided BepiColombo’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) to investigate the planet’s magnetosphere.

BepiColombo was launched on October 20, 2018. The spacecraft uses the solar power and electric propulsion system of its transfer module to generate thrust during its journey to Mercury.

BepiColombo mission timeline
BepiColombo mission timeline during its 7.2-year journey to Mercury. (Image credit: ESA)

However, the transfer module failed to deliver enough electrical power to the spacecraft’s thrusters during its scheduled engine burn on April 26, 2024.

The mission control team recovered BepiColombo’s thrust to approximately 90% of its previous level by May 7, 2024. However, the transfer module’s available power is still less than it should be, and its full thrust has yet to be recovered. ESA said in a statement.

The team’s current priorities are to maintain this power level. If the spacecraft’s current power level can be maintained, BepiColombo will reach Mercury on time.

BepiColombo has been scheduled to enter a stable orbit around Mercury on December 5, 2025, and will start its regular science observations in March 2026.

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Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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