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ESA takes part in double Venus flyby

on 09 August 2021

Solar Orbiter and BepiColombo missions mark a historic moment in space with two Venus flybys just 33 hours apart on 9 and 10 August.

Solar Orbiter, a partnership between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA, flw by Venus on the morning of 9 August with a closest approach of 7995 km. 

Throughout its mission, it makes repeated gravity assist flybys of Venus to get closer to the Sun, and to change its orbital inclination, boosting it out of the ecliptic plane, to get the best – and first – views of the Sun’s poles.

 BepiColombo, a partnership between ESA and JAXA, will fly by Venus at 13:48 UTC on 10 August at an altitude of just 550 km.

BepiColombo is on its way to the mysterious innermost planet of the solar system, Mercury. It needs flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury itself, together with the spacecraft’s solar electric propulsion system, to help steer into Mercury orbit against the immense gravitational pull of the Sun.

It is not possible to take high-resolution imagery of Venus with the science cameras onboard either mission – Solar Orbiter must remain facing the Sun, and the main camera onboard BepiColombo is shielded by the transfer module that will deliver the two planetary orbiters to Mercury. However, two of BepiColombo’s three monitoring cameras will be taking photos around the time of close approach and in the days after as the planet fades from view.

Where to next?

Solar Orbiter and BepiColombo both have one more flyby this year.

During the night of 1-2 October BepiColombo will see its destination for the first time, making its first of six flybys of Mercury – with this one from just 200 km distance. The two planetary orbiters will be delivered into Mercury orbit in late 2025, tasked with studying all aspects of this mysterious inner planet from its core to surface processes, magnetic field, and exosphere, to better understand the origin and evolution of a planet close to its parent star.

On 27 November, Solar Orbiter will make a final flyby of Earth at 460 km, kicking off the start of its main mission. It will continue to make regular flybys of Venus to progressively increase its orbit inclination to best observe the Sun’s uncharted polar regions, which is key to understanding the Sun’s 11 year activity cycle.

More details here.

Image credit: ESA