The Science Museum has shown off a full-size engineering model of BepiColombo, the European Space Agency’s first ever spacecraft to explore Mercury, and one of the most challenging planetary missions ever launched.

Standing over 6 metres tall, this Structural Thermal Model (STM) of the spacecraft has been used to test BepiColombo’s resilience to vibration at launch and extremes of temperature during its seven-year journey to Mercury.

This is a unique opportunity for the public to get a close-up look at an integral component of a space mission’s development programme. The model has been subjected to temperatures ranging from -190°C to 400°C, recreating the conditions the spacecraft will face when in shade and when in the illuminated face of Mercury.

As part of the display, you can also see the handstitched insulation blankets specifically designed to protect BepiColombo’s instruments and electronics from the intensity of the Sun’s heat, and peer inside the body of the spacecraft to see some of its internal components. The folded solar panel wing on display matches two of the three that will be on BepiColombo when it travels to Mercury, this pair extending to 30 metres when fully deployed. The panels will generate all of the mission’s electrical power.

The BepiColombo STM has been loaned to the Science Museum by the European Space Agency (ESA) and was developed and built for ESA by Airbus, the mission’s prime industrial contractor, at its sites in Germany, the UK and across Europe. Airbus engineers prepared the model for display at the Science Museum where it can be seen before, during and after BepiColombo’s launch to Mercury in October 2018.

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