The BepiColombo space mission celebrated Easter with the first of nine flybys that are an integral part of its trip to Mercury.
The spacecraft came to with 12,700km of Earth’s surface, using our gravity to adjust its path.
While this did not require any active operations, such as firing thrusters, it included 34 minutes shortly after the closest approach when the spacecraft flew across the shadow of Earth. This was the first time since its launch in 2018 that it was not receiving any direct sunlight.
“It is always nerve-wracking to know a spacecraft’s solar panels are not bathed in sunlight,” says Elsa Montagnon, BepiColombo Spacecraft Operations Manager for ESA.
“When we saw the solar cells had restarted to generate electrical current, we knew BepiColombo was finally out of Earth’s shadow and ready to proceed on its interplanetary journey.”
A joint ESA/JAXA mission, BepiColombo is on a seven-year journey to the smallest and innermost planet orbiting the Sun.
The next two flybys will take place at Venus, with a further six at Mercury itself.