The joint European-Japanese Mercury spacecraft BepiColombo took a series of final glimpses of Earth on 10 and 11 April 2020, as it moved away from our planet after the gravity-assist flyby performed in the early hours of 10 April. The images, showing Earth as a receding crescent against the darkness of space, were captured by one of the MCAM selfie cameras mounted on the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM), one of the three components of the BepiColombo mission.
Images in the sequence were taken in 10-minute intervals from 17:13 UTC on 10 April until 13:19 UTC on 11 April 2020, as the distance to Earth increased from around 218 000 km to 524 200 km. One of the solar arrays is visible on the right side of the images, and the structure in the bottom corner is one of the sun sensor units on the MTM, covered in multi-layered insulation.
The Moon appears as a tiny speck of light, behind the end of the array in the image taken at 09:03 UTC, and moving towards the centre of the frame in the following images.
Scheduled to reach its target orbit around the smallest and innermost planet of the Solar System in 2025, the spacecraft also carries ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
The 10 April flyby at Earth was the first of nine gravity-assist manoeuvres that BepiColombo will perform during its seven-year journey. The spacecraft got as close as 12 700 km to Earth’s surface, closer than the orbit of Europe’s navigational satellites Galileo, and was observed by astronomers from many places across the world.
BepiColombo will perform its next two flybys at Venus and further six at Mercury.