ESTL’s contribution to BepiColombo

On 20th October 2018 the BepiColombo mission was successfully launched from Kourou, French Guiana onboard an Ariane 5 launch vehicle, beginning the spacecraft’s 7-year flight to the planet Mercury. Once arriving into orbit the spacecraft will spend the next 3-years surveying the planet, including its magnetic field, magnetosphere and surface structure. For ESR Technology the launch represents the culmination of over 15-years of contributions and activities by the European Space Tribology Laboratory (ESTL), which ESR runs, into ensuring this mission’s success.

The BepiColombo mission comprises two scientific spacecraft, The Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) built by ESA, and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) built by JAXA, together with the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) also built by ESA. These three components are launched together, separating upon arrival at the planet Mercury. Over the last decade and a half ESTL has provided technical support to all three spacecraft components, covering a range of mechanisms and projects, each requiring a unique and detailed solution. These activities include, but are not limited to;

  • Consultancy – Strip-down and inspection of Antenna Pointing Mechanism (APM) and Solar Array Drive Mechanism (SADM) gearboxes for the MPO and MTM.
  • Testing – Rotary joint and main bearing tests for the MPO High Temperature Gain Antenna, plus cup-cone Hold Down and Release Mechanism (HDRM) testing, and post-storage validation activities.
  • Lubrication – Lubrication of bearings and gear contacts with sputtered Molybdenum Disulphide (MoS2) to provide long life and low friction under the harsh environment and high temperatures of Mercurian orbit, including for the MMO Antenna Despin Mechanism (ADM).
  • R&D – Numerous spin-out activities providing further support to BepiColombo and other European spacecraft missions. These have included CTE shrinkage effects of self-lubricating composites, the behaviour of MoS2 at elevated temperatures, and hybrid lubrication studies. Much of this work is performed for ESA under the Tribology Application Programme (TAP), generating essential tribological data for the benefit of the European space community.

BepiColombo has played a significant part in the shaping of ESTL’s activities over the last 15 years. We look forward to the next major scientific missions undertaken by ESA, and the future technical support ESR Technology can provide.

For more information about ESR Technology, ESTL or our contributions to BepiColombo, please contact us.

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