London, October 20: European and Japanese space agencies said an Ariane 5 rocket successfully lifted a spacecraft carrying two probes into orbit today for a joint mission to Mercury, the planet closest to the sun.
The European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency jointly said, the unmanned Bepi Colombo spacecraft successfully separated and was sent into orbit from French Guiana as planned to begin a seven-year journey to Mercury.
They said the spacecraft, named after Italian scientist Giuseppe "Bepi" Colombo, was in the right orbit and has sent the first signal after the liftoff.
ESA Director General Jan Wörner has said, Beyond completing the challenging journey, this mission will return a huge bounty of science. In a statement ESA says, the 1.3 billion-euro (USD 1.5 billion) mission is one of the most challenging in its history.
The BepiColombo spacecraft will have to follow an elliptical path that involves a fly-by of Earth, two of Venus and six of Mercury itself so it can slow down before arriving at its destination in December 2025.
When it arrives, BepiColombo will release two probes - Bepi and Mio - that will independently investigate the surface and magnetic field of Mercury. Mercury's extreme temperatures, the intense gravity pull of the sun and blistering solar radiation make for hellish conditions.
The probes are designed to cope with temperatures varying from 430 degrees Celsius (806 F) on the side facing the sun, and -180 degrees Celsius (-292 F) in Mercury's shadow.
The ESA-developed Bepi will operate in Mercury's inner orbit, and JAXA's Mio will be in the outer orbit to gather data that would reveal the internal structure of the planet.
Scientists hope to build on the insights gained by NASA's Messenger probe, which ended its mission in 2015 after a four-year orbit of Mercury.
The only other spacecraft to visit Mercury was NASA's Mariner 10 that flew past the planet in the mid-1970s.