- BepiColombo spacecraft just hours away from making first flyby of Mercury
- The British-made probe will make its closest approach on Saturday at 00:34 BST
- Will take pictures of minor planet passing within 124 miles of its surface
- The spacecraft is expected to begin its real mission around Mercury in 2025
British-built spacecraft BepiColombo is just hours away from making its first flyby of Mercury, when it will photograph the Solar System’s smallest planet as it passes within 124 miles of its surface.
The probe will reach its closest on Saturday at 00:34 BST.
However, this will only be a fleeting journey, as the spacecraft is traveling too fast to orbit and will instead run directly past the world closest to the Sun.
BepiColombo will be slowed slightly by Mercury’s gravity, though it will eventually be driven to reside around a lesser planet until December 2025 before flying in the future in the coming years.
The unmanned probe will use a total 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 propel it into Mercury’s orbit.
The pass is hot on the heels of its last Venus flyby in August, giving scientists their first taste of what’s coming into the main mission in four years.
BepiColombo will capture images and science data during the approach, although it will not use its high-resolution cameras as these are currently placed away for their safety in deep space.
Instead, two of the probe’s three surveillance cameras will be taking pictures about five minutes after the time of the close and up to four hours later.
The first images will be released to the public on Saturday (October 2), with the rest published on Monday morning.
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The countdown continues: British-built spacecraft BepiColombo is just hours away from making its first flyby of Mercury, when it will pass within 124 miles of the Solar System’s smallest planet.
The probe will make its closest approach to the diminutive planet on Saturday at 00:34 BST
What do we know about Mercury?
For all its monotonous ‘dead’ form, Mercury is a very interesting place
It is the smallest planet in our solar system – only slightly larger than Earth’s moon.
At its Sunward half, the planet warms to a temperature of 510 °C (950 °C) while its nighttime temperature is -210 °C (-346 °F).
It is the closest planet to the Sun at a distance of about 36 million miles (58 million km), or 0.39 AU.
Mercury has a solid iron core that measures more than half the diameter of the planet. In contrast, Earth has a solid core that is just 9.5 percent of its total circumference.
A day on Mercury takes 59 Earth days. Mercury makes one complete orbit (one year in Mercury time) around the Sun in just 88 Earth days.
BepiColombo was launched in October 2018 and is composed of two science orbiters, one from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the other from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) that will fly in complementary orbits around the planet.
These include the ESA-led Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the JAXA-led Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, which will study all aspects of the planet – from its core to surface processes, magnetic fields and its exosphere.
It aims to better understand the origin, processes and evolution of the planet closest to our parent star.
Traveling 67 million miles to enter orbit around Mercury is no small task, accelerating or slowing down several flybys for orbital insertion.
Gravitational flybys require extremely precise deep-space navigation work, ensuring that the spacecraft is on the correct approach trajectory.
A week after BepiColombo’s last flyby over Venus on August 10, a correction maneuver was performed to slightly lower the craft for this first flyby of Mercury.
Experts expect it to pass very close to a distant world, just 124 miles from its surface.
Since BepiColombo is more than 60 million miles from Earth, it takes 350 seconds for light to reach it, just being on target within a mile is no easy feat.
“It is because of our remarkable ground stations that we know where our spacecraft is with such accuracy,” said Elsa Montagne, ESA’s operations manager.
‘With this information, the Flight Dynamics team at ESOC knows how much maneuvering we need to do for Mercury’s gravity assist to be in the right place.
‘As is often the case, the path of our mission has been so carefully planned that no further correction maneuvers are expected for this upcoming flyby. BepiColombo is on track.
The unmanned European Space Agency spacecraft will use a total of nine planetary flybys: one on Earth, two on Venus, and six on Mercury, together with the spacecraft’s solar electric propulsion system, helping to enter Mercury’s orbit. to do
Who Was Giuseppe ‘Beppy’ Colombo?
Next First Mercury flyby falls on 101st anniversary of Giuseppe ‘Beppy’ Colombo
He lived from October 2, 1920 until his death on February 20, 1984.
Colombo was an Italian scientist and engineer for whom the BepiColombo mission is named.
Colombo is known to explain Mercury’s distinctive feature of rotating on its axis three times in every two orbits of the Sun.
They realized that by careful choice of a spacecraft’s flyby point as it passes a planet, the planet’s gravity could help the spacecraft make more flybys.
His interplanetary calculations enabled NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft to achieve three flybys of Mercury instead of one.
It did this by using a flyby of Venus to alter the spacecraft’s flight path – the first of several spacecraft to use such a gravity assist maneuver.
The first image taken by the probe will be available approximately 30 minutes after closest approach, and it is…