The cost estimates for the joint European Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) double-spacecraft BepiColombo Mercury mission have ballooned only 10 months after ESA signed its spacecraft's prime contract with EADS Astrium.

In January this year ESA signed a €350 million ($445 million) contract with EADS Astrium for the mission that had an original cost estimate of €1 billion. To be launched in August 2013 by a Samara Space Center Soyuz 2-1b, BepiColombo has two spacecraft that will orbit the inner planet for one year from 2019. Its two spacecraft are the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). ESA is building the MPO and JAXA the MMO.

At an International Astronautical Congress press briefing in Glasgow, Enrico Saggesse, the Italian Space Agency's new commissioner, confirmed the increased cost estimate but declined to comment further.

ESA's BepiColombo project manager Jan van Casteren told Flight: "At present I am not prepared to discuss this matter."

The cost increase and the future of BepiColombo will be discussed at the ESA member states' triennial ministerial meeting from 25-26 November at The Hague in the Netherlands, which will decide ESA's goals and funding for a three-year period.

Source: Flight International