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Journal Article

Geodesy, Geophysics and Fundamental Physics Investigations of the BepiColombo Mission


Wicht,  Johannes
Department Planets and Comets, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Max Planck Society;

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Genova, A., Hussmann, H., Hoolst, T. V., Heyner, D., Iess, L., Santoli, F., et al. (2021). Geodesy, Geophysics and Fundamental Physics Investigations of the BepiColombo Mission. Space Science Reviews, 217: 31. doi:10.1007/s11214-021-00808-9.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0008-3852-D
In preparation for the ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission to Mercury, thematic working groups had been established for coordinating the activities within the BepiColombo Science Working Team in specific fields. Here we describe the scientific goals of the Geodesy and Geophysics Working Group (GGWG) that aims at addressing fundamental questions regarding Mercury’s internal structure and evolution. This multidisciplinary investigation will also test the gravity laws by using the planet Mercury as a proof mass. The instruments on the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), which are devoted to accomplishing the GGWG science objectives, include the BepiColombo Laser Altimeter (BELA), the Mercury orbiter radio science experiment (MORE), and the MPO magnetometer (MPO-MAG). The onboard Italian spring accelerometer (ISA) will greatly aid the orbit reconstruction needed by the gravity investigation and laser altimetry. We report the current knowledge on the geophysics, geodesy, and evolution of Mercury after the successful NASA mission MESSENGER and set the prospects for the BepiColombo science investigations based on the latest findings on Mercury’s interior. The MPO spacecraft of the BepiColombo mission will provide extremely accurate measurements of Mercury’s topography, gravity, and magnetic field, extending and improving MESSENGER data coverage, in particular in the southern hemisphere. Furthermore, the dual-spacecraft configuration of the BepiColombo mission with the Mio spacecraft at higher altitudes than the MPO spacecraft will be fundamental for decoupling the internal and external contributions of Mercury’s magnetic field. Thanks to the synergy between the geophysical instrument suite and to the complementary instruments dedicated to the investigations on Mercury’s surface, composition, and environment, the BepiColombo mission is poised to advance our understanding of the interior and evolution of the innermost planet of the solar system.