BepiColombo lines up for second Mercury flyby

Tue, 21 Jun 2022 03:27:38 GMT
Space Daily

Paris (ESA) Jun 21, 2022 The ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission is gearing up for its second close flyby...

The ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission is gearing up for its second close flyby of Mercury on 23 June.

Having been launched into space on an Ariane 5 from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou in October 2018, BepiColombo is making use of nine planetary flybys: one at Earth, two at Venus, and six at Mercury, together with the spacecraft's solar electric propulsion system, to help steer into Mercury orbit against the enormous gravitational pull of our Sun.

Even though BepiColombo is in 'stacked' cruise configuration for these brief flybys, meaning many instruments cannot yet be fully operated, it can still grab an incredible taste of Mercury science to boost our understanding and knowledge of the Solar System's innermost planet.

The ESA-led Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the JAXA-led Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, Mio, will be delivered into complementary orbits around the planet by a third module, ESA's Mercury Transfer Module, in 2025.

First BepiColombo had to shed the orbital energy it was 'born' with as it launched from Earth, which meant it first flew in a similar orbit to our home planet - and shrinking its orbit down to a size more similar to Mercury's.

BepiColombo's first flybys of Earth and Venus were thus used to 'dump' energy and fall closer to the centre of the Solar System, while the series of Mercury flybys are being used to lose more orbital energy, but now with the purpose of being captured by the scorched planet.

For this second of six such flybys, BepiColombo needs to pass Mercury at a distance of just 200 km from its surface, with a relative speed of 7.5 km/s.

"We have three slots available to perform correction manoeuvres from ESA's ESOC Mission Control in Darmstadt, Germany, in order to be in precisely the right place at the right time to use Mercury's gravity as we need it," explains Elsa Montagnon, Mission Manager for BepiColombo.

Because BepiColombo's closest approach will be on the planet's nightside, the first images in which Mercury will be illuminated are expected to be at around five minutes after close approach, at a distance of about 800 km.

The Sun's magnetic field lines are carried by the solar wind and bend as they collide with those of Mercury.