To Mercury and beyond!

PUBLISHED: 17:04 12 March 2007 | UPDATED: 11:40 06 May 2010

An impression of the probe

An impression of the probe

SCIENTISTS in Comet country are set to work on a 330 million euro space probe destined for Mercury. EADS Astrium, which has a site in Stevenage, has been awarded the contract to build BepiColombo, a probe aimed at capturing images and information about th

SCIENTISTS in Comet country are set to work on a 330 million euro space probe destined for Mercury.

EADS Astrium, which has a site in Stevenage, has been awarded the contract to build BepiColombo, a probe aimed at capturing images and information about the planet.

Workers in Stevenage will build the structure which will house the probe.

It will need to be able to withstand extremes of temperature, as the side exposed to the sun will experience soaring heat while the temperature will plummet on the other side.

The Stevenage site will also work on the electrical and chemical propulsion system.

BepiColumbo is scheduled to be launched in 2013.

Once launched, it will fly in a polar orbit around Mercury for at least a year, imaging the planet's surface, generating height profiles and collecting data on Mercury's composition and atmosphere.

So far, scientists know very little about Mercury, which is the hottest planet in the solar system.

Most of the detailed information comes from NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft which performed three flybys in the 70s.

Stuart Russell, a propulsion architect who is working on the programme at Stevenage, said: "We are delighted to have won the contract for BepiColombo. Mercury is one of the most difficult places to visit in the galaxy with sunlight 10 times stronger than here on Earth so it's going to be a big challenge but we're up for it.


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