On Friday 01.10.2021 the BepiColombo space probe launched in 2018 by the European Space Agency (ESA), approached Mercury to a distance of 199 kilometers above the planet’s surface. The first pictures were taken from a further distance of around 1000 to 3000 kilometers. The space probe also collected scientific data in the flyby. In October last year, Bepicolombo caused a stir when it sent images from Venus to Earth. Since the Mercury probe is on its night side, the conditions for a photo were not ideal at first, so the next photo was taken from a distance of about 1000 km. The recorded images are very similar to pictures of our own moon.
Not surprisingly, those responsible for the mission are very happy with the result of the mission sofar. “The flyby was error-free and it is unbelievable to finally see our target planet,” says Elsa Montagnon, Spacecraft Operations Manager of the mission. Valentina Galluzzi, who worked on the “SIMBIO-SYS” observation system, which is used in Mercury’s orbit, was just as relieved and happy: “It made me really happy to see the planet that I have been observing since my first few years in my research career and i look forward to new Mercury images in the future.”
The aim of the joint European-Japanese mission is to map Mercury and analyze the mineralogical and chemical composition of the surface. The mission started on October 20, 2018 and after almost three years of flight it reached Mercury, the innermost planet of our solar system, with a few swing-by maneuvers on Earth and Venus. After Mariner 10 and the Messenger orbiter, it is the third spacecraft to explore Mercury.
ESA and JAXA named the space probe after the scientist Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo (1920–1984). The mathematician and engineer from the University of Padua in Italy dealt with Mercury a lot. Thanks to him, NASA was able to make three orbits around Mercury with the Mariner 10 spacecraft in 1974 and 1975 instead of just one.