Technology space travel: Tricky flyby on earth

08:25  09 april  2020
08:25  09 april  2020 Source:   sueddeutsche.de

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Space .com Gear! Space is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site NASA has classified asteroid 1998 OR2 as "potentially hazardous" not because it puts Earth in The closest flyby of asteroid 1998 OR2 for the foreseeable future will be on April 16, 2079, when it will be

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Wenn alles gut geht, kommt BepiColombo im Jahr 2025 beim Merkur an. © EADS Astrium / dpa If everything goes well, BepiColombo will reach Mercury in 2025.

• The European space probe BepiColombo will fly close to Earth on Friday.

• The aim is to bring the probe on a course towards Mercury.

• The corona pandemic also affects space travel: the Esa works with an emergency crew - but the maneuver requires a lot of attention.

Tricky flyby of Earth

Actually, it is a routine maneuver that the European space probe BepiColombo is facing this Friday: once past Earth and then with momentum into the depths of the solar system. But what is routine these days?

For three weeks now, minimal operation has been the order of the day in the Darmstadt space control center of the European Space Agency Esa, from where almost two dozen satellites and space probes are controlled: emergency crew, large distances, home office if possible. The full Corona range. Temporarily, the Esa even had to put seven probes into sleep mode because of the lack of the necessary personnel. And now of all times, BepiColombo is making its delicate maneuver, Europe's first spacecraft on the way to Mercury. But some things cannot be postponed, not even in difficult times.

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List of Earth flybys is a list of cases where spacecraft incidentally performed Earth flybys, typically for a gravity assist to another body. List of Solar System probes. Gravity assist. Planetary flyby . Mars flyby .

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The spacecraft is to reach Mercury in seven years, its next destination is the Venus

BepiColombo is on a mission - a long, meticulously planned and fully timed mission. The space probe, which weighs a good four tons, was launched in October 2018. Seven years and nine billion kilometers later, it is said to reach Mercury, the innermost planet in the solar system. Mercury orbits the sun at an average distance of 58 million kilometers, while Earth is 150 million kilometers from the central star - and with it BepiColombo, which has been traveling a similar distance since it was launched 18 months ago. In order to reach a more inward orbit around the sun, the probe must reduce speed, if possible without wasting fuel unnecessarily.

mission planners rely on planes to fly past when they need to change the speed and path of their probes. The spacecraft are attracted by the gravity of the celestial bodies, dragged along their orbit around the sun and finally - like a hammer thrower - catapulted onto a new orbit.

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BepiColombo has such a maneuver ahead of it on Friday. Around 6.25 a.m. in Central European Summer Time, the probe will travel up to about 12,700 kilometers to Earth - less than half the height at which the European Galileo navigation satellites are traveling. It will slow down, according to Esa, by about 18,000 kilometers an hour. And it will take a new course: towards the planet Venus, where the next fly-by maneuver is due.

The good news for the emergency crew in the control center: The laws of orbital dynamics also apply in times of Corona. Nothing changes in the calculations for the orbit, made long before the start and refined since then. "BepiColombo will fly past Earth either way," flight director Elsa Montagnon said in a message from Esa. The engineers have also been able to initiate minor path corrections using the probe's control nozzles.

The probe must be rigorously prepared for the flyby - the scientists are now taking care of this in the home office

The bad news: BepiColombo has an increased need for support around the flyby. Daily contact with the spacecraft is essential, according to Montagnon. Among other things, safety commands must be sent to the probe before the flyby in order to prepare the 1.3 billion euro device for all eventualities - including a 34-minute solar eclipse. This is how long the spacecraft, named after the Italian engineer Giuseppe "Bepi" Colombo, will be in the shadow of the earth while flying by. From an unprepared probe, such a blackout, in which the solar cells suddenly no longer supply energy, could be considered an emergency. Systems would shut down, batteries would have to start.

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Beautiful Earth . Travel company. Curiosidades Históricas. Interest. CosmosUp. 18 February 2019 ·. A flyby of Earth from the International Space Station.

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The flyby will also be exciting for the scientists involved, who are now almost all relegated to their home offices. Eight out of eleven measuring instruments on board are said to provide test results. A so-called spectrometer, which will later analyze Mercury's atmosphere, even has to be calibrated using the moon. Other instruments are designed to measure the solar wind and its interaction with the earth's magnetic field. "The real reason why we are already switching on the instruments is still tests and calibrations," says project scientist Johannes Benkhoff. "If we also get data for scientific research, that's a bonus."

As important as the flyby may be for the scientists and the mission team, for the probe itself it is only a small impulse on a long journey. If everything goes as planned, the next of a total of nine flyby flights will be scheduled for BepiColombo in mid-October - then at Venus. And this maneuver will not be postponed either. No matter how the corona pandemic develops until then.

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