BepiColombo’s close Venus encounter

A stunning sequence of 89 images taken by the monitoring cameras on board the European-Japanese BepiColombo mission to Mercury, as the spacecraft made a close approach of Venus on August 10, 2021.

The sequence includes images from all three Monitoring Cameras (MCAM) onboard the Mercury Transfer Module, which provides black-and-white snapshots in 1024 x 1024 pixel resolution. It is not possible to image with the high-resolution camera suite during the cruise phase. The images have been lightly processed to enhance contrast and use the full dynamic range.

A small amount of optical vignetting is seen in the corners of some of the images.The first image is from MCAM 1, and was taken at 13:41:02 UTC, prior to close approach. As such, the spacecraft was still on the nightside of the planet, but the dayside can just be seen creeping into view. Part of the spacecraft’s solar array can also be seen.

The second image was taken by MCAM 2 at 13:51:56 UTC, two seconds after closest approach. With the Venus surface just 552 km away, the planet fills the entire field of view. The camera is not able to image detail of the planet’s atmosphere. The image also captures the Mercury Planetary Orbiter’s medium gain antenna and magnetometer boom.

The rest of the sequence is from MCAM 3, while the spacecraft was pointed at Venus, and then as it slews away and gradually recedes from view, covering the time period 13:53:56 UTC on 10 August until 12:21:26 UTC on 11 August. The high gain antenna of the Mercury Planetary Orbiter is also seen changing orientation as it points towards Earth.

The music accompanying the compilation was composed especially for the occasion, by Anna Phoebe.

The images were captured during the second of two Venus flybys, and the third of nine flybys overall. The flybys are gravity assist manoeuvres needed to help steer the spacecraft on course for Mercury.

During its seven-year cruise to the smallest and innermost planet of the Solar System, BepiColombo makes one flyby at Earth, two at Venus and six at Mercury in order to approach the orbit around Mercury. Its first Mercury flyby will take place 1-2 October 2021 from a distance of just 200 km.

BepiColombo, which comprises ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), is scheduled to reach its target orbit around the smallest and innermost planet of the Solar System in 2025.

The spacecraft will separate and enter into their respective orbits before starting their science mission in early 2026 .

—ESA