Europe’s Mercury probe BepiColombo will take a closer look at its target planet on Monday (June 19), after which expect some exciting new images to reach Earth soon.
There will be a flyby BepicolomboThe third of Mercury The spacecraft will make a closest approach of 147 miles (236 kilometers) at 3:34 pm EDT (1934 GMT). This is closer than the probe’s two orbiters will orbit during the main mission.
The main goal of the flyby, however, is not to take stunning close-up views of Mercury’s surface, but to use the surface of Mercury to slow down the probe. Gravity So it can enter the planet’s orbit by the end of 2025.
“Our spacecraft started with a lot of energy because it was launched from Earth and orbits the Sun like our planet. To be captured by Mercury, we have to slow down and use the gravitational pull of Earth, Venus and Mercury to do that,” said ESA flight dynamics expert Frank Budnick. In a statement.
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The BepiColombo mission, a joint project of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), is the third spacecraft in history to visit Mercury. The Solar System’s inner planet, it is difficult to study.
Although Mercury is 10 times closer on average Earth than Thursday How long it takes to reach a gas giant is how long it takes to reach an inner planet. This is because a spacecraft bound to Mercury must constantly brake against its powerful gravitational pull. the sun. To do this, BepiColombo, launched in 2018, carefully counts the planets in its path as it orbits the Sun. The spacecraft has passed by Mercury twice before October 2021 And inside July 2022. Before that, the shuttle He visited Earth once And Venus twice.
When Bepicolombo begins to feel the gravity of Mercury, it will be traveling at a speed of 3.6 km/s. [2.2 miles per second] As for the planet. “That’s half the speed approached during the previous two Mercury flybys,” Budnick said.
The flyby will reduce the spacecraft’s velocity relative to the Sun by 0.5 miles per second (0.8 km/s) and change its direction by 2.6 degrees, Budnick added.
PepiColumbus will make three more Mercury flybys before slowing enough to be captured by a rocky planet slightly larger than Earth’s moon.
With some of the spacecraft’s instruments working during the trip, scientists are excited to use the opportunity to measure the boiling environment around Mercury. BepiColombo also has three low-resolution surveillance cameras that are busy snapping black-and-white images of the largely unexplored rocky word while in flight.
Two previous Mercury flybys have already produced interesting scientific results, Johannes Benkoff, ESA’s Bepicolombo project scientist, said in the statement. The probe made the first measurements of the planet’s weak southern inner magnetosphere, revealing, for example, the composition of charged particles in this region.
“Collecting data during flybys is extremely valuable for science teams to verify that their instruments are working properly ahead of a major mission,” Benkoff said. “This provides a new opportunity to compare data collected by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft during its 2011-2015 mission to Mercury from complementary locations around the planet not normally accessible from orbit.”
The BepiColombo spacecraft has two orbits that are currently stacked on top of each other through the solar system. As a result, some probes’ instruments are covered during travel. But during Monday’s flyby, two instruments designed to measure the shape of Mercury’s surface and study its gravity will collect data for the first time. The orbiters’ main, high-resolution cameras, unfortunately, are not yet available.
Two studies have previously examined Mercury closely. NASA’s Mariner 10 flew past Mercury three times in 1974 and 1975, capturing the first images of the burnt planet. And NASA’s Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) mission orbited the planet from 2011 to 2015.