This week, Venus is getting a double flyby as two of ESA's probes are set to make history about 33 hours apart. European Space Agency's (ESA) Solar Orbiter, a collaboration with NASA, and BepiColombo fly near Venus before they reach their missions in the inner part of the Solar System.
The Solar Orbiter was launched in 2020, while BepiColombo was launched in 2018 to study Mercury. The two flybys are a bit of a bonus science before the two spacecraft reach their destination.
ESA Prepares for Double Venus Flyby
According to a report by Phys.org, Solar Orbiter and BepiColombo are set to make a double flyby on Venus just 33 hours apart on August 9 and 10, respectively. The two spacecraft need the gravitational swingby to help them reach their destinations in the inner part of the Solar System.
More so, an ESA statement said that the two Venus flybys would give unprecedented opportunity to study the environment of Venus from two different locations at the same time and locations that were not typically visited by a designated planetary orbiter.
They also clarified that although the two flybys might happen closely, it is unfortunate and not expected that one of the spacecraft will be able to take an image of the other even if they come to their closest distance at over 357 000 miles (575,000 kilometers) apart.
This will not be the first time for the two spacecraft to encounter Venus. For instance, the Solar Orbiter spacecraft did its first Venus flyby last December and is expected to make more trips around the planet in the future. Meanwhile, BepiColombo first encountered Venus last October and headed to Mercury for its first flyby on the planet nearest the Sun.
"Without the flyby, we would not be able to reach our target planet," said BepiColombo spacecraft operations manager Elsa Montagnon as quoted by Phys.org. "The energy required to enter into orbit of Mercury would be prohibitively expensive in terms of propellant."
The two spacecraft carry numerous scientific tools that will be used to take a closer look at Venus during the two flybys.
Double Venus Flyby Will Capture Images of Venus at Two Different Locations
According to Space.com, Solar Orbiter will approach Venus on early Monday, August 9, at a distance of 4,967 miles (7,995 kilometers). Then about 33 hours later, BepiColombo will approach Earth's neighbor at about 342 miles (550 kilometers) on Tuesday, August 10.
But since Venus is neither of the spacecraft's main missions, it will not be possible to take high-resolution images of Venus. Solar Orbiter will keep on facing the Sun, while BepiColombo's main camera will be shielded until it reaches Mercury.
The good news, though, is that BepiColobo's monitoring cameras can take photos of the planet, snapping black-and-white images when it approaches Venus as well as days after as it moves past it. ESA expects to receive the first images on Tuesday night and the rest on August 11.
Moreover, Solar Orbiter's SoloHI imager, which usually takes pictures of the solar wind, can be used to observe the nightside of Venus in the week before it comes close to the planet.
More than the pictures of Venus, the space agency hopes to collect data on the magnetic and plasma environment of Venus from different locations to add on the data taken by JAXA's Akatsuki spacecraft that is in orbit around Venus. All in all, it will be an interesting dataset for ESA that will likely take months to analyze.
Check out more news and information on Venus in Science Times.