The combined European and Japanese spacecraft are to go on a slingshot around the planet Venus, with a short gravity dance that will change the path of the vehicle through space. This decisive maneuver will take place just before midnight and the spacecraft will have to nail down its routine to reach the space station – Mercury – in the next five years.
The spacecraft that created the swing of these planets is Bepi Colombo, which is actually two spacecraft wrapped in one. The vehicle has one spacecraft inspected by the European Space Agency and another inspected by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency. Once they reach Mercury, the spacecraft will collect data about Mercury’s structure, atmosphere, magnetic field, and more and orbit the small world independently.
Launched in October 2018, Bepi Colombo is currently in the midst of a seven-year long voyage, with the spacecraft entering Mercury orbit at the end of 2025. Mercury’s path is a long one because the planet is located in our solar system. Since Mercury is so close to the Sun, any spacecraft trying to visit the planet feels an extra large tug from the larger star – pulling gravity, causing the vehicles to accelerate.
While designing the Bepi Colombo mission, the engineers decided to use the inner planets as brake pedals to slow down the spacecraft. “You really need a lot of power to put a spacecraft in orbit around Mercury,” says Johannes Benkhoff, a project scientist at ESA’s Bepi Colombo. Edge. “And there are two options for getting this energy: one should have a lot of fuel, which will make your spacecraft heavier and heavier. Another option is to use the help of planets. ”
During its seven-year journey, Bepi Colombo will fly nine of the planets, taking advantage of the gravity of this world to slow down the spacecraft and slightly alter the orbit of the vehicle around the sun. Bepi Colombo had already made a flybye to Earth in February and the spacecraft will launch the first of two flybys on Venus tonight at 11:58 p.m. Once it is completed, in December 2025 Bepi will make six flybyes to Mercury before settling into orbit around the planet Colombo.
Flying through Venus is crucial for the spacecraft’s route, but the maneuver also provides a great opportunity for Bepi Colombo to study the planet. And there are many scientists who are very keen to study Venus at this time. In September, scientists announced that they had discovered traces of a gas called phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere – a gas that is heavily associated with life here on Earth. Investigations are nowhere near as telling whether life exists on Venus, but scientists are eager to learn more about gas and where it could come from.
Benfof says the Bepi Colombo team has received many requests for spacecraft to find phosphine in Venetian clouds. “Of course, phosphin detection is very attractive to Venus,” he says. “We were asked by many sources, ‘What can you do about phosphine? Will you see it ”
He says the team is happy to find the gas, but doesn’t expect to get very good data because Bepi Colombo’s equipment is optimized for Mercury, where temperatures are warmer. “I doubt our tool is sensitive enough to detect it,” says Benoff. “That doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention to it, but the chances are very low that we will contribute here.” Engineers hope to study many other types of gases believed to be present in the clouds of Venus, and they expect to get some nice pictures with a few “selfie cameras”.
While this Venus flyby is exciting, Benhoff notes that the next one will be even saltier. Tonight, Bepi Colombo will be about 6,650 miles or 10,700 kilometers from the planet’s surface. But in November, the spacecraft will fly through Venus again, approaching 20 times and within 341 miles or 550 kilometers. Benoff says that in many ways, it is a scientific test for a second slingshot maneuver. “We hope we can get good results and high resolution during that flyby.”