Artist impression of BepiColombo flying by Mercury. The spacecraft makes nine gravity assist maneuvers (one of Earth, two of Venus and six of Mercury) before entering orbit around Mercury in 2025.
Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

The BepiColombo mission is gearing up for its second close flyby of Mercury on June 23.

For this second of six such flybys, BepiColombo needs to pass Mercury at a distance of just 124 miles (200 kilometers) from its surface. These gravitational flybys require extremely precise deep-space navigation work.

Joint mission

BepiColombo is a joint mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The spacecraft is entering Mercury orbit in late 2025 and was launched back in October 2018.

Artist’s impression of the BepiColombo spacecraft at Mercury. The mission comprises ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (foreground) and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (background).
The image of Mercury was taken by NASA’s Messenger spacecraft.
Credits: Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Mercury: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

According to a ESA statement, a unique aspect of the BepiColombo mission is its dual spacecraft nature. The ESA-led Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the JAXA-led Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, Mio, will be delivered into complementary orbits around the planet by a third module, ESA’s Mercury Transfer Module, in 2025.

Monitoring cameras

For this upcoming flyby, BepiColombo’s three monitoring cameras will be taking black-and-white photos.

ESA explains that the first images will be downlinked within a couple of hours after closest approach; the first is expected to be available for public release during the afternoon of June 23.

Subsequent images will be downlinked throughout the remainder of the day and a second image release, comprising multiple new images, is expected by Friday morning. All images are scheduled to be released to the public in the Planetary Science Archive on Monday June 27.

The joint European-Japanese BepiColombo mission captured this view of Mercury on October 1, 2021 as the spacecraft flew past the planet for a gravity assist maneuvere.
Credit: ESA/BepiColombo/MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Geological features

“For the closest images it should be possible to identify large impact craters and other prominent geological features linked to tectonic and volcanic activity such as scarps, wrinkle ridges and lava plains on the planet’s surface,” explains ESA.

“Mercury’s heavily cratered surface records a 4.6 billion year history of asteroid and comet bombardment, which together with unique tectonic and volcanic curiosities will help scientists unlock the secrets of the planet’s place in Solar System evolution,” the ESA statement adds.

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