What does a year in space look like to our Solar System Explorer BepiColombo? The joint ESA-JAXA mission launched one year ago, at 01:45 GMT on 20 October. With one of its three monitoring cameras it has been capturing views like this of its high-gain antenna as it changes position to follow Earth. The antenna is the main way to communicate with Earth, that is, for the spacecraft to receive commands and in turn return data – eventually science data about Mercury.
The image sequence contains 206 images taken by monitoring camera three; in total more than 500 images have been taken between the three cameras, which are pointed in different directions. A portion of one of the solar arrays is also seen in the top right corner of this sequence as it rotates in and out of view.
BepiColombo is the first European mission to Mercury, the smallest and least explored planet in the inner Solar System, and the first to send two spacecraft to make complementary measurements of the planet and its dynamic environment at the same time. The mission comprises two science orbiters: ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter – of which the antenna in the images presented here can be seen – and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter.
The ESA-built Mercury Transfer Module, on which the monitoring cameras are attached, is carrying the orbiters to Mercury using a combination of solar electric propulsion and gravity assist flybys, with one flyby of Earth, two at Venus, and six at Mercury, before entering orbit at Mercury in late 2025. The first flyby of Earth and Venus will occur next year, in April and October respectively.