Final preparations are underway for the launch of a joint-European and Japanese mission to Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun.
An Ariane 5 rocket is scheduled to lift the BepiColombo spacecraft into orbit from French Guiana late Friday, after which it will begin its seven-year journey to Mercury.
The mission is complicated by the intense gravity pull of the sun, forcing the spacecraft take an elliptical path that involves two fly-bys of Venus and six of Mercury itself.
Once BepiColombo, which is named after an Italian scientist, arrives in late 2025, it will release two probes that will independently investigate the surface and magnetic field of Mercury.
The last spacecraft to visit Mercury was NASA’s Messenger probe, which ended its mission in 2015.
Livestream of BepiColombo launch: http://bit.ly/BepiLive