The Associated PressAug 09, 2021 11:01:38 AM IS
Two spacecraft will dive past Venus within hours of each other this week, using the maneuver to do a little extra science en route to their main missions in the center of our solar system.
The European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter probe, a cooperation with NASA, will circle Venus early Monday, using the planet’s gravity to help set it on course to observe the Sun’s poles.
Approximately 33 hours later, the European-Japanese spacecraft BepiColombo will zoom even closer to Venus in a maneuver designed to help it decelerate sharply and head safely into orbit of Mercury in 2025.
“Without the flyby, we couldn’t get to our target planet,” said Elsa Montagnon, BepiColombo spacecraft operations manager. “The energy required to enter Mercury’s orbit would be prohibitively expensive in terms of propellant.”
Both probes have numerous science instruments on board, some of which will be used to take a closer look at Venus as they zoom past.
The measurements will be in addition to those taken by the Japanese probe Akatsuki, which is already in orbit around Earth’s hottest neighbor. NASA and the European Space Agency plan to send three more missions to Venus by the end of the decade.