ESA conducts BepiColombo flyby

on 09 April 2020

Controllers at ESA’s mission control centre are preparing for a gravity - assist flyby of the European - Japanese Mercury explorer BepiColombo.

BepiColombo, launched in October 2018, is currently orbiting the Sun at a similar distance as Earth. On 10 April, at about 06:25 am (CEST), the spacecraft will approach Earth at the distance of only 12 700 km, which is less than half the altitude of Europe’s Galileo navigational satellites. The manoeuvre will slow down the BepiColombo spacecraft and bend its trajectory towards the centre of the Solar System, thus tightening its orbit around the Sun.

BepiColombo also carries three GoPro-style ‘selfie’ cameras, mounted on the transfer module, that will be taking photographs as the spacecraft approaches Earth. The scientists activated the cameras in early March and took a few snaps of the Earth-Moon system as viewed by BepiColombo from its position hurtling towards the Earth.

The Earth flyby on 10 April is only the first of nine gravity assist manoeuvres awaiting BepiColombo during its 7-year journey to Mercury. In October, the spacecraft will perform the first of two flybys at Venus.

The manoeuvre, which will see the mission adjust its trajectory by harnessing Earth’s gravitational pull as it swings past the planet, will be performed amid restrictions ESA has implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

More information is available at this link.

2020 04 BepiColombo Image A

Image credit: ESA