A spaceship is there to hurl Venus and get it on...

A spaceship is there to hurl Venus and get it on...
A spaceship is there to hurl Venus and get it on...

A joint European and Japanese spaceship is about to fling the planet Venus and perform a short gravitational dance that will alter the vehicle’s course through space. This critical maneuver will take place shortly before midnight Eastern Time, and the starship will have to nail down its routine in order to reach its final destination – Mercury – within the next five years.

The spaceship that makes this planetary swing is BepiColombo, which is actually two spaceships packed into one. The vehicle consists of a spaceship that is monitored by the European Space Agency and another that is monitored by the Japanese Aerospace Research Agency. Once they reach Mercury, the spaceship will separate and independently orbit the tiny world, collecting data about Mercury’s structure, atmosphere, magnetic field, and much more.

BepiColombo was launched in October 2018 and is currently in the middle of a long seven year journey. The spacecraft will enter Mercury orbit in late 2025. The road to Mercury is long because the planet is in our solar system. Because Mercury is so close to the Sun, any spaceship attempting to visit the planet will feel an especially large jolt from the massive star – a pull that causes vehicles to speed up.

When developing the BepiColombo mission, the engineers decided to use the inner planets as brake pedals to slow the spaceship down. “You actually need a lot of energy to put a spaceship into orbit around Mercury,” says Johannes Benkhoff, project scientist at BepiColombo at ESA The edge. “And there are two alternatives to get this energy: One is to have a lot of fuel, which makes your spaceship bulky and heavy. The other alternative is to use the help of the planets. ”

During its seven-year voyage, BepiColombo is scheduled to make nine fly-bys of planets, using the gravity of these worlds to slow the spaceship and slightly alter the vehicle’s orbit around the sun. BepiColombo made a flyby of Earth back in February, and tonight at 11:58 p.m. ET, the spacecraft will make the first of two Venus flybys. After that, BepiColombo will make six flybys of Mercury before settling into orbit around the planet in December 2025.

Flying Venus is critical to the spacecraft’s trajectory, but the maneuver also provides BepiColombo with a great opportunity to study the planet. And there are many scientists who are very eager to study Venus right now. In September, scientists announced that they had discovered traces of a gas called phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere – a gas that is predominantly associated with life here on Earth. The discovery is nowhere near enough to say that life exists on Venus, but scientists are very curious to learn more about the gas and its origins.

According to Benkhoff, the BepiColombo team has received many inquiries about what the spaceship should look for in the Venusian clouds for phosphine. “Of course, the phosphine detection attracted Venus very much,” he says. “We have been asked by many sources, ‘What can you do about phosphine? Will you check it out ‚”

He says the team is happy to look for the gas but he doesn’t expect very good data as BepiColombo’s instruments are optimized for mercury where temperatures are warmer. “I doubt that our instrument is sensitive enough to recognize it,” says Benkhoff. “That doesn’t mean we’re not looking at this, but it is very, very unlikely to be our contributor.” However, the engineers hope to study many other types of gases that are believed to be in are present in the clouds of Venus. And they expect some nice pictures with a couple of “selfie cameras”.

While this Venus flyby is exciting, Benkhoff notes that the next one will be even cuter. Tonight, BepiColombo will come within 10,700 kilometers from the surface of the planet. But in November the spaceship will fly past Venus again, come 20 times closer and come within 550 kilometers. In many ways, this is a scientific test run for this second spin maneuver, says Benkhoff. “We hope that we can achieve even better results and a higher resolution during this flyby.”

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