ESA’s Solar Orbiter and the Mercurial-bound station BepiColombo made a double flyby past Venus, 33 hours apart. The two flights made it possible to simultaneously study both the day and night sides of the planet, as well as its magnetosphere and near-planetary plasma. The first images from the flybys, as well as important data, have already been released.
Everything you need to know about ESA’s latest double flyby past Venus
The importance of Venus
Venus is of great interest to scientists for many reasons – this planet is very similar to Earth in size and mass, but very different from it in other properties. This is the reason behind the “new era” of Venus exploration that is set to begin in a few years with several countries in participation.
What makes the planet this important?
Planetologists are interested in the planet’s current geological activity, the complex dynamics and composition of its atmosphere, including the mystery of the appearance of phosphine, considered a potential biomarker, as well as the unusual properties of its magnetosphere and ionosphere.
Currently, only the Japanese Akatsuki spacecraft operates in near-Venusian orbit, however, scientists have the opportunity to explore the planet during encounters with spacecraft that are sent to the inner solar system, such as the Parker probe and during events like the recent double flyby.
Solar Orbiter flyby
On August 9 and 10, two European spacecraft made their first double flyby past Venus, just 33 hours apart. First, the Solar Orbiter flew at a minimum distance of 7995 kilometers from the night side of the planet.
Then, on August 10, the Mercurian research station BepiColombo completed the double flyby when it flew at a minimum distance of 552 kilometers from the dayside of Venus.
Both flybys were made as part of gravity assist maneuvers near Venus and will give scientists a lot of new scientific data on the magnetosphere, plasma environment, and features of the planet’s atmosphere, including images.
“BepiColombo” will not return to Venus while the Solar Orbiter will make seven more gravitational maneuvers near the planet in the future.
Earlier this year on June 10, 2021, the European Space Agency announced the start of the development of a new middle-class scientific apparatus, EnVision, which will explore Venus and operate in orbit around the planet.
EnVision will continue the research program launched by the European spacecraft Venera-Express, which operated for ten years and made many scientific discoveries: it found ozone in the atmosphere of Venus, showed polar vortices, discovered active volcanoes, and more.
Other upcoming missions
In turn, NASA also has its own Venusian research program, consisting of an orbital station and a descent probe. Russia is also engaged in the development of the Venera-D apparatus while India also wants to launch its spacecraft to Venus.
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• ESA. (n.d.). BepiColombo skims past Venus.
• ESA. (n.d.). ESA gets ready for double Venus flyby.
• ESA. (n.d.). Sights and sounds of a Venus flyby.
• Hatfield, M. (2021, August 12). During close Pass, SOLAR Orbiter CAPTURES venus’ Glare. NASA.