Flight over Venus on the way to Mercury


One of the instruments on board BepiColombo: the BELA laser altimeter from the Physics Institute of the University of Bern Credit: University of Bern

On Saturday, October 20, 2018, the BepiColombo space probe set off towards Mercury from the European spaceport in Kourou, in French Guiana. The 6.40-meter-high, 4.1-tonne heavyweight BepiColombo space probe consists of two spacecraft: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), which was built by the European Space Agency, ESA, and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), which was built by Japan. Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA. The two spacecraft will fly together to Mercury as a coupled system, but will be placed in separate orbits upon arrival. The MMO will study the magnetospheric interaction between the planet and the solar wind. The MPO will be lowered into a deeper orbit, which is ideal for remote sensing of the planetary surface.

Unmissable maneuvers on a long trip

The journey of the Euro-Japanese space probe to Mercury, the smallest planet in our solar system, will take seven years. Once BepiColombo has reached its intended orbit, the transmission of data to Earth will take approximately 15 minutes. Ultimately, scientific research and experiments on Mercury are expected to last one to two years. BepiColombo has instruments on board which were designed and built at the Institute of Physics of the University of Bern.

The journey must be made by detours: “On its way to Mercury, BepiColombo flies over Venus twice and Mercury six times to slow the spacecraft against the gravitational pull of the Sun so that the spacecraft can be put into orbit around Mercury. », Explains Peter Wurz, professor at the Institute of Physics at the University of Bern and co-director of the department of space research and planetology. On October 15, in the wee hours of the morning, the space probe will fly over Venus for the first time at a distance of 11,000 km, the second flight is scheduled for August 2021.

Data expected on Venus

On board the BepiColombo is among others the SERENA experience, which consists of four instruments. “SERENA also includes the innovative STROFIO mass spectrometer, to which we have contributed the most,” says Peter Wurz, also leader of the STROFIO project. “With STROFIO, we will one day record the very thin atmosphere of Mercury – we are talking about an ‘exosphere’ – and analyze its chemical composition. ”

Hovering Venus is not only used for decelerating but also for measurements. Besides STROFIO, the University of Bern is also involved in two other SERENA instruments, MIPA and PICAM. “We are waiting for data of the ionized particles in the atmosphere of Venus from these two instruments, which are turned on during the flyby of Venus,” says Wurz. The Sun and the solar wind carry ionized particles from the outermost edge of Venus’ atmosphere. “The amount of particle loss and its composition can be determined using both instruments,” Wurz continues.

Bernese expertise in demand for more than 50 years

Over the decades, the University of Bern has repeatedly shown that very high-quality instruments for space research can be built here, “says Peter Wurz.” The University of Bern has always been a reliable partner in these numerous international collaborations. This is why we are always asked to take on new missions to exciting destinations in the solar system. “

Mercury-bound spacecraft buzzes Earth and returns images

Provided by the University of Bern

Citation: Venus flyby on the way to Mercury (2020, October 14) retrieved October 14, 2020 from https://phys.org/news/2020-10-VEN-flyby-mercury.html

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