'BepiColombo': the challenge of running a computer in an oven

Mercury, the planet that this Monday crosses defiantly ahead of the Sun, is a body of extreme temperatures because of its proximity to the star. Its surface is down from 450 degrees Celsius to minus 180 degrees. Towards its orbit is the probe of the European Space Agency (ESA) BepiColombo, which has Spanish participation and is scheduled to arrive in 2025. For this mission, new technologies and materials that support heat capable of melting metals have had to be developed. "It's like putting a laptop in an oven," ESA engineers explain. Research is already applied on Earth and has served for cooling systems of the Paris metro, in the latest generation of solar panels or in the protective clothing of firefighters


The sunlight around Mercury is 11 times more intense than on Earth, a circumstance that has made the European mission one of the greatest technological challenges. "BepiColombo is a mission like no other. 80% of its equipment has had to be developed from scratch," systems engineer Daniele Stramaccioni says to ESA.

The first challenge has been isolation, which in conventional satellites consists of a milticapa cover. The probe that travels to Mercury since last year is equipped with up to four of these insulation blankets reinforced with between 10 and 20 layers, an increase of 94 kilos to the weight of such a ship, as explained by ESA engineer Heiko Ritte.

Titanium, aluminum, Upilex-S, a material used to coat high temperature cables, and 3M Nextel, a ceramic fiber capable of supporting the most extreme thermal, mechanical and electrical conditions used in furnaces, have been used in the construction of the modules. Its installation has been carried out preventing any loose fiber from interfering or damaging the optical cameras of the ship,

The 'BepiColombo' in the test lab. That

To circumvent direct radiation, in addition to materials, BepiColombowillwill will be oriented towards the position that allows less exposure and carries a system similar to Venetian blinds built with titanium sheets.

The probe modules are equipped with a dense network of between 63 and 97 "heat pipes", the system that has since been applied to the Paris metro. It has been designed as if they were the sweat glands of the human body, with an evaporation or condensation system, depending on the temperature they record,

'BepiColombo' ESA radiator system

porous materials were also suitable for a mission where any emission or deterioration can compromise the operation of the instrument, so a system that combines ozone with ultraviolet radiation has been developed


Formula 1 cars have also contributed to the development of the probe. There are materials and glues capable of withstanding 140 degrees Celsius, but they generate smoke (which could affect the instrument) and it was necessary to withstand temperatures of up to 200 degrees. Engineers then looked at the materials used for high-competition vehicles and developed a polymer-reinforced carbon fiber as well as a new adhesive, which has been tested in the Electrical Materials and Components laboratory. These developments are applicable in solar panels used on Earth