The ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission has beamed back stunning image of earth captured during the first flyby on April 10 at 06:25 CEST. The joint mission took the image when it was nearly 12,700 kilometres far from Earth. As soon as the image surface the Internet, aspiring astronaut community, scientists, skywatchers, and stargazers all went haywire as they saw shining earth appear from the darkness which looks mesmerising.
Bepicolombo shot the pic during its one of nine flybys that it has completed to reach Mercury. It is to be noticed that Bepicolombo has completed its only flyby of Earth successfully and the spacecraft is scheduled to make next flyby en route to Mercury on Venus where it will complete two flybys. Remaining six flyby will take place on planet Mercury itself in the coming seven years.
BepiColombo is a joint mission of the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to the planet Mercury. The mission comprises two satellites launched together:: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and Mio (Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, MMO). The mission will perform a comprehensive study of Mercury, including characterization of its magnetic field, magnetosphere, and both interior and surface structure. It was launched on an Ariane 5 rocket on 20 October 2018 at 01:45 UTC, with an arrival at Mercury planned for December 2025, after a flyby of Earth, two flybys of Venus, and six flybys of Mercury. The mission was approved in November 2009, after years in proposal and planning as part of the European Space Agency’s Horizon 2000+ programme; it is the last mission of the programme to be launched.
For those who don’t know what is flyby, a flyby is a path a spacecraft follows past a planet or other body in space to get information about it. In a flyby, the spacecraft passes close, but isn’t “captured” into an orbit by gravity. During a flyby, a spacecraft must use its instruments to observe the target as it passes, changing the aim of the instruments as it passes. The spacecraft must downlink data at high rates to Earth, storing data onboard when it can’t send it down.
Moreover, spacecraft in a flyby has a limited opportunity to gather information. Once it has flown by its target, it cannot return. Flyby operations are planned years in advance of the encounter and refined and practiced in the months prior to the encounter date.
“This eclipse phase was the most delicate part of the flyby, with the spacecraft passing through the shadow of our planet and not receiving any direct sunlight for the first time after launch,” said Elsa Montagnon, BepiColombo Spacecraft Operations Manager for ESA.
To prepare for the scheduled eclipse, mission operators fully charged the spacecraft batteries and warmed up all components in advance, then closely monitored the temperature of all onboard systems during the period in darkness, between 07:01 and 07:35 CEST.
“It is always nerve-wracking to know a spacecraft’s solar panels are not bathed in sunlight. When we saw the solar cells had restarted to generate electrical current, we knew BepiColombo was finally out of Earth’s shadow and ready to proceed on its interplanetary journey,” added Elsa.
Scientist explained that during the flyby they switched on the cameras ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter to shot the stunning image. Most of the scientific instruments for observation including cameras are installed on the ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter. In addition, JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, also known as Mio, also took the readings required for the mission during the flyby.
As per the reports, scientists from ESA and JAXA will use the data obtained by the spacecraft to study the magnetic field of Earth and it will also help in calibrating the scientific instruments aboard spacecraft two they could take correct readings when they reach Mercury in 2026.
“Today was of course very different to what we could have imagined only a couple of months ago,” said Johannes Benkhoff, ESA’s BepiColombo Project Scientist, who followed the operation from his home in the Netherlands, along with the many scientists from the 16 instrument teams that comprise the mission, scattered between Europe and Japan.
“We are all pleased that the flyby went well and that we could operate several scientific instruments, and we are looking forward to receiving and analyzing the data. These will also be useful to prepare for the next flyby, when BepiColombo will swing past Venus in October.”
“There is a great interest in Japan in the BepiColombo mission. Thus, after the successful flyby we are looking forward to the science at Venus and Mercury,” said Go Murakami, BepiColombo Project Scientist at JAXA.