BepiColombo

Two spacecraft are set to pounce on Venus within hours of each other this week, using the maneuver to do some extra science en route to their main mission at the center of our solar system.

The European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter, in collaboration with NASA, completed a flyby of Venus early Monday, using the planet’s gravity to help set it on a path to observe the sun’s poles.

About 33 hours later, the European-Japanese BepiColombo spacecraft will approach Venus in a maneuver designed to help it slow sharply and safely steer it into Mercury’s orbit in 2025.

“Without the flyby, we wouldn’t be able to reach our target planet,” said Elsa Montagnion, BepiColombo’s director of spacecraft operations. “The energy required to enter Mercury’s orbit would be prohibitively expensive in terms of fuel.”

Both probes have many scientific instruments on board, some of which will be used to get a closer look at Venus as they pass.

It will add the measurements 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.

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