Friedrichshafen, February 26th 2007 - Astrium is set to build the Mercury probe BepiColombo on behalf of the European Space Agency, ESA. ESA's scientific programme decision-making body, the "Science Programme Committee" (SPC) agreed to award this order to Astrium, Europe's largest space company, following the decision of ESA's Industrial Policy Committee in January this year. The industrial contract is worth approximately 330 million euros. BepiColombo is scheduled to begin its journey to Mercury in 2013.
BepiColombo will consist of three modules: a European orbiter, a Japanese orbiter and a transfer module carrying the two spacecraft to Mercury. The complete unit will have a height of approximately five meters and a mass of about three tonnes, of which about 50% is propellant. The European "Mercury Planetary Orbiter"(MPO) will be equipped with eleven sophisticated scientific instruments. Flying in a polar orbit, it will study Mercury for at least a year, imaging the planet's surface, generating height profiles, and collecting data on Mercury's composition and atmosphere. The Japanese "Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter" (MMO) will investigate the planet's magnetic field with its five on-board instruments.
Astrium in Germany as prime contractor is responsible for the entire "three-section" spacecraft, leading an industrial core-team including Astrium Ltd in the UK and Alcatel Alenia Space in Italy. Attitude and orbit control design and development is also under German responsibility and the integration of the engineering model will also take place in Friedrichshafen, Germany. In the U.K., Astrium is responsible for the electrical and chemical propulsion system as well as the complete MPO spacecraft structure. Alcatel Alenia Space will develop the MPO electrical power, thermal control and communications systems and is responsible for the integration and test activities. Astrium in France will develop the on-board software building on experienced gained on Rosetta, Mars Express and Venus Express.
One of the greatest challenges facing Astrium engineers is preparing BepiColombo for the extreme temperatures it will encounter - close to Mercury, solar radiation is up to ten times stronger than on Earth, with temperatures of up to 470 degrees Celsius on the planet's surface.
Experts at Astrium and at Alcatel Alenia Space will use a variety of techniques to protect the electronics and scientific instruments from the extreme heat including a newly designed insulating multi-layer blanket whose top layer is likely to be made using ceramic-fibres. and a radiator to release the heat from the probe's interior into space, whose design makes it less sensitive to the thermal infared radiation emitted by the planet's surface. In addition the spacecraft will use special solar arrays capable of supplying power even when temperatures reach 250 degrees Celsius.
The combination of a conventional chemical propulsion system with an innovative ion propulsion system will provide the required thrust on BepiColombo's long journey. Several swing-by manoeuvres are planned to reach Mercury. During these manoeuvres, BepiColombo will be accelerated using the gravity fields of the Moon, Earth and Venus. BepiColombo is scheduled to reach its destination in 2019 and enter into a polar orbit after two further swing-by manoeuvres at Mercury.
Schedule to explore Mercury for at least 12 months, the spacecraft's mission may be extended by a further year. To date, planetary researchers know very little about the hottest planet in our solar system. Most of the detailed data comes from NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft which performed three flybys in the seventies and was able to image part of the planet.
EADS Astrium, a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS, is dedicated to providing civil and defence space systems. In 2005, Astrium had a turnover of O2.7 billion and 11,000 employees in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Its three main areas of activity are: the business units Astrium Space Transportation for launchers and orbital infrastructure, and Astrium Satellites for spacecraft and ground segment, and its wholly owned subsidiary Astrium Services for the development and delivery of satellite services.
EADS is a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2005, EADS generated revenues of O34.2 billion and employed a workforce of more than 113,000.
Remi Roland, EADS Astrium + 33 1 77 75 80 37
Frederic-Pierre Isoz, EADS Astrium + 33 1 77 75 80 36