The Mercury-bound probe BepiColombo had received its second peek at its target planet today when a super close flyby was planned to slow the spacecraft down and modify its trajectory.
BepiColombo is a collaborative mission from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The mission, consisting of two orbiters that travel to Mercury piled up on top of each other, was launched into orbit around the sun in 2018. Since then, ground controllers have been modifying the spacecraft’s trajectory through a sequence of nine flyby maneuvers (one of which was at Earth, two at Venus, and six at Mercury ) to deliberately slow the BepiColombo down so that it can enter the orbit around the solar system’s innermost planet in 2025.
The June 23rd flyby was BepiColombo’s second at Mercury, following the probe’s first meeting with the planet in October 2021. The probe approached Mercury’s surface at 5:44 a.m. EDT (0944 GMT), when it passed only 125 miles (200 kilometers) from Mercury’s crater-riddled surface, nearer than the two orbiters will regulate once the mission starts in earnest.
BepiColombo is just the second probe assembled to orbit Mercury, after NASA’s Messenger mission, which researched the tiny rocky planet between 2011 and 2015. In the 1970s, NASA’s Mariner 10 had three flybys at Mercury while in orbit surrounding the sun and took the first-ever pictures of the planet.