#BepiColombo, the ESA/Jaxa Mission developed with the strong support of Agenzia Spaziale Italiana – ASI and INAF, on 19th June at 21:34 (Italian time) had its third close encounter with Mercury, from an altitude of about 236 kilometres.

For the satellite this was the sixth close encounter with a planet since its launch in October 2018: the first with #Earth, two others with #Venus and, finally, three so far with #Mercury. But three more will have to take place with the Solar System planets before the probe can slow down enough to fit into its orbit, which will happen in December 2025. The approach took place from the dark side of the Mercury, so the cameras did not take the first images until 13 minutes later.

After this flyby, the mission will see the gradual increase in the use of solar electric propulsion to pull against the #Sun‘s enormous #gravitationalattraction: this is in fact one of the reasons why Mercury is the least explored rocky planet in our Solar System, and why all these close passes are necessary before the probe loses enough speed to be captured by the small planet.
During the cruise phase, several
#instruments on board were activated. The Italian Space Agency is giving a significant contribution to the mission for the Italian scientific community (4 experiments on 11 had an Italian principal investigator).
OHB Italia S.p.A. is on board with two fundamental instruments: #SERENA (Search for Exospheric Refilling and Emitted Natural Abundaces) with the target to analyse the composition, origin and dynamics of Mercury’s exosphere and magnetosphere and #ELENA (Emitted Low-Energy Neutral Atoms) a neutral particle camera that investigates neutral gases escaping from the surface of Mercury, their dynamics and the processes responsible for such a population.

The study of Mercury is important to define and validate models of planet formation and their evolution, but also of the entire Solar System.
The mission will definitively offer fundamental information on the physics processes and will allow a decisive step in advance for #science and #astronomy worldwide.
Picture: Artistic representation of the BepiColombo probe. Credits: Esa-Jaxa
European Space Agency – ESA #magneticfields #waves #observations #radioscience #energy#planetarysystem #interplanetaryexplorationmissions