The BepiColombo mission got this close-up image of the planet Venus as it passed by on August 10. The spacecraft was using Venus for a gravity assist on its way to its ultimate destination, Mercury. It’s one of two spacecraft zipping by the planet this week, the other being Solar Orbiter, which flew past yesterday.
BepiColombo, a joint mission of the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, is actually made of two attached orbiters: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. The former will map the planet in great detail, and the latter will study its magnetosphere. But in order for all that to happen, the spacecraft needed to slingshot itself around Venus. By a lucky coincidence, Solar Orbiter was also in the neighbourhood, giving scientists a unique observation opportunity. We’re still awaiting news of how Solar Orbiter’s flyby yesterday went.
This image of a looming Venus was taken by BepiColombo when it was 1,572 km away, according to a release from the ESA. It was taken by the spacecraft’s third monitoring camera aboard the Mercury Transfer Module. Lightly processed (to enhance the contrast), the image captures the Mercury Planetary Orbiter’s antenna and part of BepiColombo’s body.
It was BepiColombo’s second gravity assist of Venus and the third of nine total flybys the spacecraft is scheduled to perform as it get ever nearer to Mercury. BepiColombo’s closest approach of Venus today came in at just under 563 km above the planet’s surface, making it a pretty close shave, especially in comparison to Solar Orbiter, which only got to about 8,047 km of the planet yesterday, according to the ESA.
BepiColombo’s future flybys will be of the planet Mercury and will slow the spacecraft down enough to enter the planet’s orbit. The first of those is slated for early October.