ESA’s BepiColombo Captures Selfies During Third Mercury Flyby

ESA's BepiColombo: Selfies from the third Mercury flyby

The European-Japanese space probe BepiColombo successfully completed its third flyby of Mercury, taking several selfies with the planet in the background. The European Space Agency (ESA) has released three photos, with the first one taken 12 minutes after the flyby. A photo taken nine hours before the flyby highlights the enormous speed of the probe, as Mercury still appears quite far away.

BepiColombo has now completed half of its planned flybys on Mercury, which are necessary to slow down the probe in preparation for entering orbit around the planet in December 2025. Prior to the recent flyby, a significant amount of engine thrust was required to correct accumulated course errors. The probe passed Mercury at a distance of just over 200 km, resulting in a decrease in speed of 0.8 km/s (2880 km/h).

The next Mercury flyby maneuver is scheduled for September 5, 2024. BepiColombo was launched in October 2018 and is on a seven-year journey. It is equipped with two satellites and will study the surface and magnetic field of Mercury starting from December 2025. The joint European-Japanese project aims to aid in understanding the origins of the solar system and has a total cost of around two billion euros.

The mission is named after Italian mathematician Bepi Colombo, who was instrumental in calculating the trajectory to Mercury in the early stages. The mission preparations have taken almost 20 years due to the challenging conditions near Mercury. New technology had to be developed to ensure the probe’s survival in this extreme environment. The journey is also complex due to the strong gravitational pull of the sun in close proximity to Mercury, requiring more energy compared to missions to more distant destinations like Pluto.

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