Space Probe: Takes a snap of Venus en route to Mercury

BepiColombo, a British-built space probe currently on its route to Mercury, has finished the first of two Venus flybys.

The closest approach of the space probe took place at 4:58 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15. The approach is at a distance of about 10,720 km from the planet’s surface.

The BepiColombo space probe

Launched on Oct. 20, 2018, the spacecraft requires nine gravity assist flybys. Consequently, one at Earth, two at Venus, and six at Mercury. Afterward, it will join the orbit around the planet in 2025.

The flybys use the planet’s gravitational influence to help alter the speed and direction of the probe.

Collectively with the spacecraft’s solar electric propulsion system, they support to steer it into Mercury’s orbit versus the intense gravitational pull of the Sun.

Achieving the big mission

The European Space Agency has reported the 1.3 billion-euro ($1.5 billion) mission as one of its most challenging yet. Mercury’s severe temperatures, the powerful gravitational pull of the Sun, and blistering solar radiation make for infernal conditions.

BepiColombo will make one more flyby of Venus and six of Mercury itself. The probe will then slow down before it arrives in 2025. Once there, the shuttle will split in two, freeing a European orbiter nicknamed Bepi that will dive into Mercury’s inner orbit. Simultaneously, Mio, built by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, assembles data from a more significant distance.

The sustenance of the space probe

Both probes are to cope with temperatures fluctuating from 430 degrees Celsius (806 degrees Fahrenheit) on the side facing the Sun. The other extreme is -180 degrees Celsius (-292 F) in Mercury’s umbra.

Researchers expect the BepiColombo mission to help them understand more about Mercury, which is only slightly more massive than Earth’s moon and has an extensive iron core.

The last spaceship to visit Mercury was NASA’s Messenger probe, which completed its mission in 2015 following a four-year orbit. Before that, NASA’s Mariner 10 also flew beyond the planet in the mid-1970s.

On capturing the Venus

From afar, Venus is as a small disc in the camera’s range of view, close to the probe body.
The planet governs the view during the most intimate approach phase, looming behind the Mercury Planetary Orbiter magnetometer boom.

As the scientists also examine the new flyby data, the enforcement teams will assess the Venus flyby’s appearance and make a periodic trajectory revision of the spacecraft on Oct. 22.

Conclusively, BepiColombo will also make its principal Mercury flyby next year, in October, at a range of just 200km.

Image courtesy of 3D_Render_Art/Shutterstock

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