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Arianespace to launch BepiColombo spacecraft
by Staff Writers
Paris, France (SPX) Sep 19, 2011

BepiColombo will be built by Astrium GmbH and weigh about 4,400 kg at launch.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and Arianespace has announced the signature of a contract for the launch of the BepiColombo spacecraft, designed to explore the planet Mercury. The launch is scheduled for July 2014, using an Ariane 5 ECA launcher from the Guiana Space Center, Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana.

BepiColombo is a joint scientific mission led by ESA in conjunction with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The spacecraft comprises two probes that will be injected into separate orbits around the planet: ESA's Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), and JAXA's Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).

Each of these two probes will be fitted with a suite of high-precision instruments to carry out an exhaustive study of Mercury.

BepiColombo will be built by Astrium GmbH and weigh about 4,400 kg at launch. The spacecraft will leave the Earth with a hyperbolic excess velocity of 3.36 km/s.

After signing the contract, ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain said, "With BepiColombo, Europe continues to explore our Solar System. After Mars Express, Venus Express and the Huygens probe to Titan, we are now gearing up to explore a planet that is very close to the Sun, key to understanding the formation of our Solar System, and yet still very mysterious.

"For the European Space Agency, it's also an excellent example of scientific teamwork, since we are sharing this experience with the Japanese space agency. After the successful launch of Herschel and Planck back in 2009 and before the launch of the ATV-3 and Alphasat next year, Ariane 5 again demonstrates its extreme flexibility, which will soon be complemented by Soyuz and Vega."

Jean-Yves Le Gall, Chairman and EO of Arianespace, added: "We are both proud and honored to be given this opportunity to support space science and serve the European Space Agency, teaming up with JAXA on this program. Arianespace deploys a complete range of launch vehicles, Ariane 5, Soyuz and Vega, to guarantee independent access to space for Europe and provide the most appropriate launch solutions for European government satellites."

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