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BepiColombo lined up for second Mercury flyby

on 23 June 2022

The ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission geared up for its second close flyby of Mercury on 23 June. ESA’s spacecraft operation team is guiding BepiColombo through six gravity assists of the planet before entering orbit around it in 2025.

Like its first encounter last year, this flyby also brought the spacecraft to within about 200 km altitude above the planet’s surface. Closest approach was anticipated at 09:44 UT (11:44 CEST/ 12:44 Romanian time).

The primary purpose of the flyby is to use the planet’s gravity to fine-tune BepiColombo’s trajectory. 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. A sequence of snapshots will be taken by BepiColombo’s three monitoring cameras showing the planet’s surface, while a number of the magnetic, plasma and particle monitoring instruments will sample the environment from both near and far from the planet in the hours around close approach.

Gravitational flybys require extremely precise deep-space navigation work, ensuring that a spacecraft passes the massive body that will alter its orbit at just the right distance, from the correct angle and with the right velocity. All of this is calculated years in advance but has to be as close to perfect as possible on the day.

More details here.

Image credit: ESA/ATG medialab