Only 200 kilometers was between the BepiColombo spacecraft on Friday and the surface of Mercury. The ship took several photos of the first planet of the solar system, but only one of them has been made available so far. More similar close-ups are planned for the coming years. By the end of 2025, the probe is to be permanently in orbit of the planet.
The European-Japanese BepiColombo spacecraft first approached Mercury – the first planet of the solar system.
The probe flew over the surface of the small planet at an altitude of just 200 kilometers on Friday, then headed back into deep space. The engineers working on the mission plan five more similar passes. Every time they want to use Mercury’s gravitational pull to slow down the probe’s speed.
The goal is to get “Bepi” in orbit around the planet. It is planned to take place by the end of 2025. At this point, the probe will be moving 50 kilometers per second in relation to the Sun.
BepiColombo probe. Mercury’s photos are there, though the main cameras are down
After approaching the planet’s surface, the probe took several photos of Mercury, but not with a specially prepared high-resolution camera.
The “Bepi” are basically two spaceships in one. One part was developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the other by the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA). The way these two components were connected for the trip to Mercury obscures the openings of the main cameras. This means that the first pictures of Mercury will be taken by several surveillance or engineering cameras mounted outside the ship.
A larger package with photos from the first planet is expected to arrive on Saturday in the next few hours. Scientists hope to see a few familiar elements in simple black and white photographs.
“I think we’ll recognize the Kuiper crater,” speculates Dave Rothery, professor of planetary geology at the UK’s Open University. – We’ll just have to wait. We know what should be in the photo, but given the lighting conditions and the small size of the cameras, there is some uncertainty, he added.
ESA has promised to release all photos in the form of a short video. Its publication will most likely take place on Monday.
BepiColombo probe. In a few years, it will orbit the planet Mercury
Although the probe will not be in orbit of Mercury until 2025, and parts of the two agencies will be separated, the ship is expected to continue downloading data and testing instruments.
The next flights are planned for June 2023, September 2024, December 2024 and January 2025. At the turn of 2025 and 2026, the probe will begin regular surveys from the orbit of Mercury.
Main photo source: PAP / EPA / ESA / BEPICOLOMBO / MTM HANDOUT