The BepiColombo probe used a flyby past our neighbour and ‘Twin Planet’ Venus to slow it down on its way to Mercury. And it took a picture as it whizzed past:
Launched in 2018 the aim is to get it orbiting Mercury by 2025. These are long-term projects! This month it reached its target planet and beamed back its first images of Mercury.
Taken from an altitude of 1000km above Mercury’s surface, this image is way better than what we had before from our only two previous missions to Mercury: NASA’s Mariner 10 in the early 1970s, and Messenger in the early 2000s. But this is just the first encounter. The probe will now take another four years and five flybys to slow down enough so it can get into stable orbit around Mercury, the closest planet in the Solar System to the Sun.
Launched aboard an Ariane rocket, the BepiColombo mission is a joint effort between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). After a three-year-long journey, the probe has finally reached Mercury. Four more years to go.
Once in a stable orbit in 2025, ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, both onboard the probe, will be released. They will eventually study various aspects of Mercury, including its core, magnetic field, exosphere, and surface processes, to better understand the planet’s origins and evolution, according to the ESA.