New ESA Mercury Spacecraft Undergoes Tests
August 28, 2012

New ESA Mercury Spacecraft Undergoes Tests

[WATCH VIDEO: Simulating BepiColombo's Separation Shock]

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

The European Space Association (ESA) has put its BepiColombo mission through a series of shock tests to prepare it for its future journey towards Mercury.

BepiColombo will be lifted off from this planet via an Ariane 5 rocket in 2015, during which it will be connected to the upper stage of the rocket. Once the upper stage and its cargo have reached orbit, the two will separate.

"This is achieved via a pyrotechnic device that will fire open a clamp band, allowing springs to push the spacecraft safely away from the upper stage," ESA said in a press release.

Once this firing takes place, a mechanical shock will be transmitted through the spacecraft.

The latest tests by ESA are to ensure the components of BepiColombo will survive the shocks during flight.

ESA said that in order to simulate the launch vehicle separation, the spacecraft was suspended from an overhead crane above blocks of foam rubber. They then used compressed gas to open the clamp and the launch vehicle assembly unit dropped onto the cushioned surface. During this time, a number of accelerometers mounted on the spacecraft measured the effect of the shock.

ESA also performed other tests to simulate the future launch, including exposing BepiColombo to the noise a rocket produces, the harsh vacuum of space, and the high heat the modules will face as they enter orbit around Mercury.

BepiColombo is made up of instruments provided by ESA and the Japanese Space Agency, JAXA. Its instruments include Japan's Mercury Magnetosphere Orbiter and Europe's Mercury Planetary Orbiter. The spacecraft will also have the Mercury Transfer Module, which will deliver the two satellites into orbit around the planet.

After launching in 2015, BepiColombo will be traveling through space for seven years before finally arriving at Mercury in 2022.