|HARD / TELECOMS / Wednesday, 19 January 2011 13:46|
BepiColombo's Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter in the Large Space Simulator
18 January 2011
Key components of the ESA-led Mercury mapper BepiColombo have been tested in a specially upgraded European space simulator. ESA’s Large Space Simulator is now the most powerful in the world and the only facility capable of reproducing Mercury’s hellish environment for a full-scale spacecraft.
The Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) has survived a simulated voyage to the innermost planet. The octagonal spacecraft, which is Japan’s contribution to BepiColombo, and its ESA sunshield withstood temperatures higher than 350°C.
Engineers talk about the power of the Sun in units called the solar constant. This is how much energy is received every second through a square metre of space at the distance of Earth’s orbit.
“Previously, the LSS was capable of simulating a solar constant or two. Now it has been upgraded to produce ten solar constants,” says Jan van Casteren, ESA BepiColombo project manager.
BepiColombo consists of separate modules. The MMO will investigate the magnetic environment of Mercury. It is kept cool during its six-year cruise to Mercury by the sunshield. These are the two modules that have now completed their thermal tests.
“The tests allowed us to measure the thermal blanket’s performance. The results allow us to prepare some adjustments for the tests of the Mercury Planetary Orbiter next year,” says Jan.
In addition to enduring temperatures of 350°C, ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) will go where no spacecraft has gone before: down into a low elliptical orbit around Mercury, of between just 400 km and 1500 km above the planet’s scorching surface.
At that proximity, Mercury is worse than a hot plate on a cooker, releasing floods of infrared radiation into space. So, the MPO will have to deal with this as well as the solar heat. The MPO begins its tests in the LSS in the summer.
BepiColombo's scientists and engineers discuss the mission
More from this author:
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 13:49|