The BepiColombo spacecraft has a long journey ahead — but first, it needs to take a “pit stop.”
Launched in 2018, the satellite is headed for Mercury, where it’s set to arrive by December 2025. The craft will become just the third in history to visit the planet, which is the Solar System’s closest to the sun, according to AP.
A trip that long means plenty of energy, which is why BepiColombo will be “stopping” near earth on Friday, April 10.
That encounter, which is really more of a flyby, will involve the satellite circling around the planet to help reduce its speed and change its trajectory. So, if any at-home astronomers happen to see a flickering light in the sky that evening, it just might be something that will soon travel 48 million miles from here.
Things will be a lot different when the craft arrives. Researchers cite Mercury’s extreme temperatures, heavy solar radiation and strong gravitation pull as creating a difficult environment for any spaceship — even an unmanned one.
“Mercury is three-times closer to the Sun and therefore the radiation or the heat which we are getting from Mercury is ten-times higher,” Johannes Benkhoff, one of the scientists on the project, told AP.
BepiColombo was launched as a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and JAXA, which is Japan’s aerospace exploration agency. The organizations will hope to join NASA, which is the only other agency to ever reach Mercury with a spacecraft.
The first of those journeys came in the mid-’70s, with the Mariner program. Several decades later, NASA replicated the feat with its Messenger probe, which reached the planet in 2011 and returned to Earth in 2015.
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