Mercury mission BepiColombo flew by Earth on the eve of Cosmonautics Day
On April 12, the world celebrated Cosmonautics Day: on that day 59 years ago, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to have been in space. Two days before this year's Cosmonautics Day, Europe's first Mercury mission BepiColombo also sent its best regards to the Earthlings by flying by our planet.
It was the first and only flyby at Earth for the joint mission of the European and Japanese space agencies (ESA and JAXA). On Friday at 7.25 AM Estonian time, the spacecraft came less than 12 700 km from Earth's surface. Earth's gravity helped BepiColombo adjust the trajectory to continue its journey to Mercury. The mission's cameras took pictures of Earth during the flyby. The photos show Earth shining through darkness, during our current challenging times.
"We are scientists who fly spacecraft to explore the Solar System and observe the Universe in search of our cosmic origins, but before that we are humans, caring for one another and coping with a planetary emergency together," said Günther Hasinger, ESA's Director of Science, who also followed the event remotely from home, in Spain. "When I look at these images, I am reminded of the strength and resilience of humankind, of the challenges we can overcome when we team up, and I wish they bring you the same sense of hope for our future."
Scientists will use the data gathered during the flyby, which include images of the Moon and measurements of Earth's magnetic field as the spacecraft zipped past, to calibrate the instruments that will, as of 2026, investigate Mercury to solve the mystery of how the scorched planet formed.
Thanks to the onboard solar propulsion system, BepiColombo's flybys will help the spacecraft reach its target orbit around Mercury. Overall there will be nine flybys: the next two will take place at Venus and further six at Mercury itself.
BepiColombo was launched on October 20, 2018 and should reach Mercury's orbit in 2026. Current Assistant Director of Tartu Observatory Anu Noorma was also invited to be part of the delegation observing the launch of BepiColombo. Noorma is a member of ESA's Science Programme Committee (SPC).
BepiColombo carries a planetary and a magnetospheric orbiter. There are five research instruments on the magnetospheric orbiter and 11 on the planetary one. The University of Helsinki has been part of developing two instruments for the planetary orbiter.
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and exploring it will help understand how planets like Earth evolve and what the conditions that enable life in different parts of the Solar System are.
News about BepiColombo's launch in 2018 on our website