A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed by Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, and Enrico Saggese, President of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), strengthening the cooperation between ASI and NASA, specifically for the BepiColombo mission to Mercury led by the European Space Agency (ESA.)

The BepiColombo mission has been created to explore the composition, atmosphere, and history of Mercury using two orbiters: the Mercury Planteray Orbiter (MPO), for mapping purposes, and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), to gather information on the planet’s magnetosphere. The two spacecraft are being sent to specifically chart Mercury’s elemental composition, to determine whether the planet’s interior is molten, and to investigate the origin of Mercury’s magnetic field.

With Mercury orbiting so close to the Sun and that star’s immense gravity and brightness level, previous attempts to place spacecraft within the planet’s orbit have proven difficult.