BepiColombo makes the first of two Venus flybys on its way to Mercury
The joint ESA-JAXA BepiColombo probe has successfully completed the first of two scheduled flybys of Venus. At 03:58 GMT (05:58 am CEST) today, the robotic spacecraft came to within 10,720 km (6,661 miles) of the planet's surface in a slingshot maneuver as part of its seven-year journey to Mercury.
During the flyby, two of the three cameras on the Mercury Transfer Module were turned on 20 hours before the close encounter and returned images to mission control at Darmstadt, Germany, until 15 minutes after. Meanwhile, seven of the 11 science instruments and a radiation monitor on the European Mercury Planetary Orbiter and five sensors on the Japanese Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter returned data about the planet and its dense carbon dioxide atmosphere.
The flyby also allowed BepiColombo to make simultaneous observations with JAXA’s Akatsuki Venus Climate Orbiter and its Earth-orbiting Hisaki Spectroscopic Planet Observatory, as well as ground stations.
Launched on October 20, 2018, BepiColombo is due to arrive in orbit around the planet Mercury in 2025. This requires the spacecraft to carry out a total of nine gravity-assist planetary flybys. The first was of Earth on April 10, 2020, and today's flyby will be followed by a second of Venus on August 10, 2021, when it will come within 550 km (342 miles), and a further six flybys of Mercury before settling into its final orbit. These flybys are supplemented with thrust from the craft's ion thrusters.
With the first flyby of Venus behind it, BepiColombo will make a routine trajectory correction on October 22, and then power up its thrusters in May 2021. The first Mercury flyby is scheduled for October 2021, when it will pass within 200 km (124 miles). When the mission makes its final arrival in 2025, the two spacecraft that make up BepiColombo will undock and orbit independently.
"Following the successful Earth flyby where our instruments worked even better than expected, we are looking forward to see what will come out of the Venus flyby," says Johannes Benkhoff, ESA’s BepiColombo Project Scientist. "We’ll have to be patient while our Venus specialists look carefully into the data, but we hope to be able to provide some atmosphere temperature and density profiles, information about the chemical composition and cloud cover, and on the magnetic environment interaction between the Sun and Venus. But we rather anticipate more results next year than now, given the closer flyby distance, so watch this space."