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ASI - Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - Mission and Projects ASI - Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - Mission and Projects


Main Theme Planetary Exploration
Mission Responsibility ESA
Launch Date August 2013
End of Mission September 2020 (nominal)
Current phase -


This is the fifth cornerstone mission selected by ESA within the Scientific Directorate programme and is aimed at observing the planet Mercury and its surrounding environment. It is certainly the most ambitious interplanetary exploration mission ever planned by ESA. It will be made up of two elements:

  • The Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) developed by ESA, will be 3-axis stabilized and nadir pointing in low orbit, dedicated in particular to remote sensing and radioscience
  • The Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) developed by JAXA, the Japanese agency, with European scientific and technological contributions, a module stabilized for rotation with a particularly eccentric orbit, for measuring fields, waves and particles.

Scientific Objectives
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and with Venus, the Earth and Mars is part of the family of terrestrial planets. Its study is important in order to define and validate the models of formation and evolution of this group but also of the entire Solar System, including understanding the conditions favourable to the birth of life on ours and on other planets.


The main scientific objectives of the mission are:
- the study of the origin and development of a planet that orbits near its own star;
- to analyze the planetology characteristics: form, structure, surface and internal composition;
- investigate the properties of the exosphere and its interaction dynamics;
- select the origin of the magnetic field and the characteristics of the magnetosphere;
- validate the forecasts of Einstein's theory of general relativity.


Italian Contribution
The Italian scientific community with ASI's support, supplies a relevant contribution to the mission, with four experiments, one led by an Italian Principal Investigator. Specifically it concerns the SIMBIO-SYS, an integrated observation system of the surface and exosphere with cameras (HRIC and STC) and spectroscopes (VIHI). The other instruments with Italian leadership are: the high sensitivity ISA accelerometer, developed by INAF and TAS-I, and the related radioscience experiment MORE, based on the on-board transponder in Ka band (KaT). Also by the TAS-I, there is the SERENA experiment for the study of the particle environment through two analyzers of neutral particles (NPA) ELENA and STOFIO and two ion spectrometers (IS) MIPA and PICAM. Scientific responsibility belongs to IFSI, ENEA, ISM and IFN and industry responsibility to AMDL.


International Agreements
For this mission ESA has applied new procedures that envisage the direct involvement of the national agencies from the very beginning. ESA and the Member States of this collaboration have therefore signed a "Multilateral Agreement" in which the contributions of each country participating in the mission are described.