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BepiColombo lands at the Science Museum

Mission to Mercury: BepiColombo
On display from 16 May 2018

Today the Science Museum unveiled 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. 

Sam Gyimah, Science Minister, said: ‘The UK is playing a vitally important role in this exciting and challenging mission which will improve our understanding of the solar system and how planets are formed. Much of the spacecraft is being built right here in Britain by our thriving space sector, with the University of Leicester leading on one of the key instruments. This new project demonstrates international collaboration at its finest, something we will continue to support through our modern Industrial Strategy.’

Abigail MacKinnon, Assistant Curator, said: ‘We are thrilled to have the BepiColombo spacecraft on display at the Science Museum. This is such a unique opportunity for us; to be able to follow its journey from Earth to Mercury and watch the mission unfold in (almost) real time is hugely exciting.’

Visitors will be able 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.

Günther Hasinger, Director of Science at the European Space Agency, said: ‘BepiColombo is definitely one of the most complex scientific missions developed by ESA, in cooperation with our Japanese partners, and we are all very excited to see it leave for Mercury soon. It is thrilling to know that the public can now also get a sense of the scale of this endeavour through this full-size, real-life exhibit at the Science Museum.’

Visitors can also hear from engineers and scientists who have helped design and develop the spacecraft and its scientific instruments on a video accompanying the model about why the BepiColombo mission is so important and so challenging.

Mathilde Royer Germain, Head of Earth Observation, Navigation and Science at Airbus Space Systems, said: ‘Leading the build of Europe's first mission to Mercury has been both an honour and a huge challenge. Mastering the technologies to withstand the extreme heat at Mercury, the demanding transfer to get there and to ensure the two modules are delivered into their respective orbits is a fantastic achievement by all those involved. I am very proud to show off this amazing model at the Science Museum so that people can really appreciate the true scale of the mission.’

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.

Doug Millard, Deputy Keeper of Technology and Engineering, said: ‘It’s hard getting to Mercury. You need to slow your spacecraft down so it can be captured by the planet’s gravity. You need to protect it from the intense heat of the Sun. Twelve hundred engineers and scientists from sixteen countries have worked out how to do it. The BepiColombo mission to Mercury is a testament to international collaboration at its very best.’



BepiColombo is a joint mission between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

About the Science Museum

As the home of human ingenuity, the Science Museum’s world-class collection forms an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical achievements from across the globe. Welcoming over 3 million visitors a year, the Museum aims to make sense of the science that shapes our lives, inspiring visitors with iconic objects, award-winning exhibitions and incredible stories of scientific achievement. 

About the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) provides Europe’s gateway to space. ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world. ESA has 22 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Slovenia is an Associate Member. ESA has established formal cooperation with six Member States of the EU. Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country. It is working in particular with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes as well as with Eumetsat for the development of meteorological missions. ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities. 

Today, it develops and launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space. ESA also has a strong applications programme developing services in Earth observation, navigation and telecommunications.

Learn more about ESA  
Find out more about the mission

About Airbus

Airbus is a global leader in aeronautics, space and related services. In 2017 it generated revenues of € 59 billion restated for IFRS 15 and employed a workforce of around 129,000. Airbus offers the most comprehensive range of passenger airliners from 100 to more than 600 seats. Airbus is also a European leader providing tanker, combat, transport and mission aircraft, as well as one of the world’s leading space companies. In helicopters, Airbus provides the most efficient civil and military rotorcraft solutions worldwide.

About Discover South Kensington

Discover South Kensington brings together the Science Museum and other leading cultural and educational organisations to promote innovation and learning. South Kensington is the home of science, arts and inspiration. Discovery is at the core of what happens here and there is so much to explore every day.


Part of the Science Museum Group