A British-built spacecraft fitted with Star Trek-style “impulse engines” is on its way to Mercury, the planet closest to the sun.
BepiColombo blasted into space from the European space port at Kourou, French Guiana, at about 2.45am UK time on Saturday. It was carried on top of an Ariane 5, the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) most powerful rocket.
After a tense countdown in French, the rocket rose slowly above a ball of orange flame and thundered into the sky before disappearing into cloud.
Experts say BepiColombo could not only shed light on the mysteries of our neighbourhood’s smallest planet, but also offer new insights into how the solar system formed and even provide vital clues as to whether planets found orbiting other stars – so-called exoplanets – could be habitable.