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This is the category of world class, scientifically excellent missions needing significant new technology development. But why Mercury?

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It is a puzzling planet. Another mystery is the abundance of largely unidentified volatile substances at its surface.

These ought not to have been incorporated in a planet that formed so close to the sun as Mercury now is. But early in , it will cross outside it for most of the year.

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It will then move back inside before coming very close to the Earth in April There will also be a gravity-assist flyby of Venus when it gets there in , followed by yet another in to send it towards Mercury. Then, there will be a series of six similar flybys of Mercury in , needed to ensure that the spacecraft eventually closes in on its target at a slow enough speed to be captured into orbit around it in December Each flyby, shown in the animation above, has to be executed perfectly.

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The stacked spacecraft carries two orbiters. I suspect that after it begins to orbit Mercury, it will inherit the name of BepiColombo or maybe just Bepi. During the cruise to Mercury, Mio will be housed inside a sunshield and attached to one side of the European orbiter.

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This is operated by ESA, and provides the propulsion to take the stacked spacecraft all the way to its Mercury orbit. It has a 7.

This is a propulsion device that creates thrust by accelerating xenon gas that has been positively charged by stripping its atoms of electrons. This technique can provide much more thrust per mass of fuel than conventional chemical rockets.

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  8. Because of this, the ion drive will be operated at intervals amounting to about half the cruise duration, mostly to slow the spacecraft down. Unfortunately, the stacked configuration of the combined spacecraft impedes its ability to do science during the planetary flybys. Some scientific data will be collected, but the best pictures we are likely to get during flybys will be from the selfie-cams mounted on the MTM. Orbex has so far been fairly secretive in its operations.


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    But Larmour told me this was solely to keep expectations in check. The stage two rocket displayed today, weighing in at about kilograms, is an engineering prototype, so it will not itself fly to space. But its carbon fiber tank, 3D-printed engine, and other components are near-exact versions of what will eventually launch.

    A variant of this prototype rocket will fly to space as early as Building stage two first makes complete sense.

    Mayim Bialik

    Development of the proposed launch site in A'Mhoine is continuing, amidst some protests from locals that it could damage the local wildlife. Jonathan is a space and science journalist that specializes in commercial spaceflight, space exploration, and space science.

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    He has covered the industry for almost a dec I cover rocket launches, space exploration, space science, and more. Share to facebook Share to twitter Share to linkedin. The finished rocket will be about 17 meters long Jonathan O'Callaghan.