European spacecraft BepiColombo ready for environmental tests
The European spacecraft BepiColombo, built by Airbus Defence and Space as prime contractor, is undergoing final functional tests at the Thales Alenia Space plant in Turin, Italy. It will then be shipped to ESA's European Space Research and Technology center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, to start environmental tests.
BepiColombo is a joint mission between the European Space Agency and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA. The primary goal of this ambitious mission is a detailed study of the planet Mercury and its environment. The launch is scheduled for mid-2016 from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.
Thales Alenia Space is part of the Core Team, and coordinates 35 European companies on the work package under its responsibility. In particular, Thales Alenia Space is in charge of the telecommunications, thermal control and electric power distribution systems, along with integration and testing of the satellite and support services for the launch campaign.
One distinctive feature of the BepiColombo mission is the development of special high-temperature technologies. Mercury is only one-third of the distance to the Sun, compared with the Earth, and the solar radiation in orbit around Mercury is estimated at ten times more intense than near Earth. The space probe will have to withstand temperatures greater than 300°C during its approach to Mercury, with local excursions on the antenna reflector of up to 400°C or more, while the spacecraft's instruments will have to work at temperatures ranging from 0° to 40°. It was therefore necessary to develop special materials and devices for all exposed elements, including thermal blankets, antennas, solar cells and pointing mechanisms.