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The joint European/Japanese mission BepiColombo has begun testing its ion engine thrusters for the first time in space as it heads to Mercury.
Testing took place during a unique window, in which BepiColombo remained in continuous view of ground-based antennas and communications between the spacecraft and those controlling it could be constantly maintained. This was the only chance to check in detail the functioning of this fundamental part of the spacecraft, as when routine firing begins in mid-December, the position of the spacecraft will mean its antennas will not be pointing at Earth, making it less visible to operators at mission control.
They have so far successfully tested two of the four engines.