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Japan to launch Mercury space mission in 2014

Japan is preparing to launch a space mission to Mercury, the Sun’s nearest neighbour, in 2014, using a craft covered in mirrors to reflect 450 degree Celsius heat from the planet.

According to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the mirrors will help the probe to survive temperatures on the surface of the planet.

Seiichi Sakamoto, who is heading the JAXA team, has calculated that by reflecting the intense heat of the sun, the temperature of the mirrors can be kept at about 160 degree Celsius, ‘The Daily Telegraph’ reported.

Inside the body of the spacecraft, where the observation equipment will be housed, temperatures should be below 60 degree Celsius.

The craft stands around six feet high and is powered partly by solar energy collected by panels that are wrapped around its body. It is designed to constantly rotate to prevent one side becoming too hot.

Further tests are scheduled in Europe to determine the craft’s ability to withstand extremes of temperature but JAXA scientists say they hope to be ready to launch the probe -- which is at present unnamed -- in June 2014.

JAXA has been boosted by the impressive performance of Hayabusa, which returned to Earth in June after a seven-year journey to recover particles of an asteroid, and Ikaros, which was launched in May and is the first spacecraft to draw its energy from a solar power sail.

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