Just a few days ago, BepiColombo first encountered Mercury in what was the first of what will be six flyovers during his mission to begin studying the smallest planet in the solar system in 2025.
BepiColombo, a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), includes two orbiters which separate into complementary orbits, moreover the recent overflight of Venus it served to swing the spacecraft towards the inner solar system, allowing you to adjust the trajectory a bit.
Being able to have an uncertainty of only 2 kilometers (just over 1 mile) from 100 million kilometers away is really a testament to just how much incredible mission team, with Johannes Benkhoff, ESA’s BepiColombo project scientist, che declared in a note:
“We can’t wait to see the first results measurements made so close to the surface of Mercury.
When I started working as a project scientist on BepiColombo in January 2008, NASA’s Messenger mission had its first flyby of Mercury. Now it’s our turn. It’s a great feeling! “
Visit, it looked very short as the spacecraft was moving too fast to enter orbit, it rather swung past the planet, with the next five steps programmed set to use the gravity of the planet to slow it down enough to finally enter orbit by December 2025.
This might seem counter-intuitive as the Sun is the largest object around, so if you dropped something into the Solar System, it would simply fall inward, and it is true until that object is already moving around the sun.
When we launch a rocket into space, that rocket also has the speed of the Earth going around our star, speed that makes the Earth not roll in, so if you want to send your rocket closer to the Sun you have to slow it down, in this case just enough to match the speed of Mercury.
Doing this with chemical propulsion is very expensive, however the use of the gravitational attraction of the planets as a celestial brake slows down and bends the trajectory of an aircraft towards the inner parts of the Solar System.
This maneuver was conceived for the first time by the mathematician and Italian engineer Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo and was first used by NASA to send the Mariner 10 probe to Mercury in the 1970s.
The result of BepiColombo and the first look at Mercury
BepiColombo took the shot his first official photo of Mercury at 7:44 pm EDT (23:44 GMT) with its Mercury Transfer Module 2 monitoring camera, a navigation camera in black and white, as the spacecraft was located approximately 2,418 kilometers (1,502 miles) away from the planet, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).
Only 10 minutes earlier, at 7:34 pm. EDT, BepiColombo made its closest approach to Mercury, passing within 200 kilometers (124 miles) of the planet, coinciding with predictions.
Dozens of craters are visible on Mercury’s surface in BepiColombo’s photo, as well as a boom, thruster, and other parts of the spacecraft’s structure.
“The region shown is part of the Northern Hemisphere of Mercury, including Sihtu Planitia, which was flooded with lava. A smoother and brighter round area than its surroundings characterizes the plains around the Calvino crater, which are called Rudaki Plains.
The Lermontov crater is also seen, 166 km wide, which looks bright because it contains unique features of Mercury called “cavities” where volatile elements escape into space. It also contains a vent where volcanic explosions occurred. “
ESA officials wrote in the photo description which you can find above.
ESA also released another annotated image (below), this one identifies the main craters of Mercury also present in the first image other photos they should be released in the next days while they are elaborated by the scientific team of BepiColombo.
The $ 750 million BepiColombo mission consists of two different orbiters designed to study Mercury in unprecedented detail with a total of 16 different instruments.
The ESA contribution and the Mercury Planetary Orbiter to study the planet from above while the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, built by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will study the planet’s magnetic field, plasma environment and dust.
The two orbiters are traveling to their target planet on the Mercury Transfer Module on a seven-year journey that began with a launch in 2018 and, so far, Bepi has successfully carried out four flyovers of three different planets: one from Earth in April 2020, two from Venus (in October 2020 and August 2021) and now one from Mercury.
The next flyby of Mercury is scheduled for June 20, 2022 and will be followed by four more flyovers in June 2023, September and December 2024 and January 2025. If all goes well, BepiColombo should enter orbit around Mercury on December 5, 2025, after three years, two months and more assisted gravitational flyovers.
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