Today has dawned twice in Kourou. “Cinq, quatre, trois, deux, un, top: décollage” … After the countdown, the Ariane 5 super-rocket engines roar and in an instant it is daytime. Turned into a big ball of fire, it illuminates the night sky in the spaceport of French Guiana as if the sun were rising. As it gains altitude, the noise becomes more and more intense. During the almost two minutes it takes to disappear the radiance left by the vehicle in which the BepiColombo spacecraft is traveling, only a few exclamations of admiration break the silence that dominates the Toucan viewpoint, the closest point to the launching platform from the one that allows to see the takeoff, to 5.1 kilometers of distance. It’s 10:45 in Kourou. Twenty-six minutes after the launch, the ship finally frees itself from the last part of the rocket and sets course for Mercury. Closer, 2.3 kilometers away, the 120 technicians and operatives entrusted tonight to operate the rocket are locked in a bunker and to inform the two control centers of the European Space Agency (ESA), that of Kourou, and Darmstadt, in Germany. Also from there, about five hours before takeoff, the liquid fuel filling is controlled remotely. At the time of launch, the Ariane 5 rocket, 55 meters, weighs 880 tons, of which fuel is 90%. One million liters of water are poured into the launch pad during pre-launch operations. Each time a mission takes off at the European Spaceport in French Guiana, the French Army is responsible for security, ensuring that no ship is in the immediate vicinity and no aircraft will be on the rocket route. All visitors receive instructions on how to put on masks if an emergency occurs and the access road is cut and does not reopen until about 45 minutes after launch. “Today is not an ordinary day because BepiColombo is special,” said Jan Woerner, director of ESA. For the German engineer, curiosity and fascination are inherent to the human condition and make possible such ambitious missions, carried out jointly with the Japanese space agency, JAXA. The mission BepiColombo, named in honor of the Italian scientist Giuseppe Colombo, who died in 1984, consists of two probes that will remain orbiting the planet closest to the Sun to investigate it for at least a year. On the one hand, the ESA has developed the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), which will be responsible for making a map of the planet by analyzing in depth the surface and the interior of this world that they describe as “very peculiar”. “We have begun to study other systems in which there are planets everywhere, but we still do not have a panoramic picture of ours that allows us to understand how life was shaped,” Günther Hasinger, director of Science at ESA, explained in an interview. And, according to the German astrophysicist, “Mars has already visited about 40 probes while Mercury, until now, only two.” An extreme world The Nipponese, meanwhile, have developed the second probe of BepiColombo, called Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO or MIO) and designed to investigate the magnetosphere. According to Hitoshi Kunikaka, general director of the JAXA Space Science Institute, at a press conference, his goal in sending the MIO satellite is to find out how the solar wind affects planetary environments: “It is very close to the Sun and has a weak magnetic field , so Mercury is an ideal environment to study these interactions between the magnetosphere and the particles of the Sun. “That two probes are simultaneously observing Mercury will allow them to obtain more accurate information and produce high quality science, added the Japanese director, who He was confident that his country continues to collaborate with ESA in future space missions. Today’s launch culminates almost two decades of work. “It has been very difficult to carry out this mission,” said Nicolas Chamussy, one of the heads of Airbus Defense and Space, the main contractor of BepiColombo, which involved a total of 83 companies from 16 countries, including the Spanish Crisa , ALTER, CASA, Iberespacio, Rymsa, Sener and Thales Alenia Spain. “The really important thing is that hundreds of people have worked together in Europe and Japan to make it a reality,” Chamussy said. The final bill amounts to 1,700 million euros, including the operations of the ship until 2028. And is that we will have to wait until December 2025 for the ship to reach Mercury, a planet with extreme temperatures and radiation, and one more year so that it begins to collect the scientific data. The Astrobiology Center (CAB / CSIC-INTA), the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia and the Institute of Microelectronics IMB-CNM of the CSIC in Barcelona


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