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BepiColomboA European Space Agency (ESA) mission to the planet Mercury, run in collaboration with Japan and planned for launch in 2009. The mission will consist of two spacecraft, probably driven by solar electric propulsion: a Mercury orbiter and a magnetospheric satellite. Both craft will probably use the Moon's and Mercury's gravity to control their flight. The mission's basic objectives are to add to our understanding of the composition, structure, and history of Mercury and thereby extend our knowledge of the formation and history of the inner (terrestrial) planets of the Solar System in general. Consisting of two space vehicles incorporating many different modules, BepiColombo is set to map the whole of Mercury at several wavelengths. It will plot the planet's mineralogy and elemental composition and will be able to determine whether or not Mercury's interior is molten. BepiColombo is to be one of ESA's ‘cornerstone’ missions. Its use of two spacecraft makes it one of the most expensive ever mounted and, given Mercury's proximity to the Sun, one of the most technically challenging. The BepiColombo orbiter will have to endure extremes of temperature, from the furnacelike conditions of Mercury's sunlit side to the intense cold of its night side. The mission takes its name from a 20th-century Italian mathematician and spacecraft engineer Giuseppe (‘Beppi’) Colombo, who discovered that Mercury's axial rotation period equals two-thirds of that of its revolution around the Sun.
Collins Dictionary of Astronomy © Market House Books Ltd, 2006