SUCCESSFUL LAUNCH FOR ARIANE 5 FLIGHT VA 145/BEPICOLOMBO (credits CNES)
BepiColombo's first signals, received half an hour later at the ESA Control Center in Darmstadt, Germany, via ground tracking station at New Norcia (Australia) at 04h21 CEST, confirmed that the launch had been successful. 74 minutes after take-off, BepiColombo deployed its gigantic 30-meter-long solar panels.
The next big step will be the deployment of the satellite's communication antennas :
- at L+18h (Oct 20 21:45 CEST) for the MGA (Medium Gain Antenna), mainly used during the interplanetary cruise phase and in safety and survival mode,
- and at L+29.5h (Oct 21 09:15 CEST) for the HGA (High Gain Antenna), which will be mainly used for space and scientific operations. It can also be used suring the cruise phase to improve communications and data dump capabilities when needed.
PHEBUS will give us a first sign of life around October 22, 16:58 CEST, date on which the rotation mechanism of the instrument's optical baffle is to be unlocked.
This mechanism ("scanner") provided by the Russian Space Agency (IKI) allows us to rotate the light collecting baffle and the primary mirror over 360° with a precision less than a degree in order to adjust the instrument's line of sight. The scanner had been locked to resist the vibrations suffered during launch. During launch (as well as on non-operational phases) the baffle is in its "parking" position, facing a support protecting its opening from surrounding light (see photo below). If we fail to control the unlocking of the scanner, the baffle will remain locked in parking position and the instrument will simply be unusable, since the opening of the baffle will be obstructed.
This is a very important step for PHEBUS !
BepiColombo will then begin its long cruise to Mercury, which will officially start 3 days after the launch, on Oct 23, 03:45 CEST.