BepiColombo’s First Venus Flyby – Gravity Assist to Set the Spacecraft on Course for Mercury Orbit

The ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission is getting ready to fly by Venus. It will make a close approach to the planet on October 15, 2020, at 03:58 GMT (05:58 CEST) at a distance of approximately 10,720 km (6,660 mi). Gravity-assist flybys are needed to set the spacecraft on course for Mercury orbit.

BepiColombo launched on October 20, 2018, and made a flyby of Earth on April 10, 2020. It will make two flybys of Venus and six of Mercury before entering orbit around the Solar System’s innermost planet in 2025.

Animation visualizing BepiColombo flying by Venus. The spacecraft will make two gravity assist flybys of Venus to set it on course to Mercury: one on October 15, 2020, and the second in August 2021. It made an Earth flyby on April 10, 2020, and will also fly by Mercury six times before entering orbit in December 2025.

Even though the spacecraft will be quite far away from Venus during the first flyby, some science instruments onboard the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter will be activated to study the planet’s atmosphere and space environment. It is not possible to use the Mercury Planetary Orbiter’s main science camera during the flyby, but the monitoring cameras, or “selfie-cams,” onboard the transfer module will try to capture images of Venus as it speeds past.

JAXA’s Akatsuki Venus Climate Orbiter and its Earth-orbiting Hisaki Spectroscopic Planet Observatory, together with ground-based observatories on Earth, will also make simultaneous measurements of the planet, taking advantage of this unique opportunity for coordinated observations.

The joint ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission comprises the European Mercury Planetary Orbiter and Japan’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. They are transported to the innermost planet by the Mercury Transfer Module. The two orbiters will be able to operate some of their instruments during the planetary flybys, affording unique science opportunities. The monitoring cameras onboard the transfer module will also capture images during the journey to Mercury.

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