BepiColombo - Wikipedia The joint Eurpoean/Japanese project launches in 1 week. It's two orbiters in one package: The larger from ESA which will orbit close to the planet and the smaller from JAXA which will be in an elliptical orbit that takes it quite far out. This is only the 3rd probe to Mercury, and only the second to orbit (NASA's Messenger was de-orbited in 2015). It will fill in the gaps in the high-res map from Messenger (whose orbit was best suited for studying the Northern hemisphere; BC will be oriented to the Southern) and has been specifically designed to follow up on various science questions thrown up by the earlier mission. Launch is scheduled for 02:45 UK time, next Saturday (20th Oct) on an Ariane 5 from French Guiana.