BepiColombo is a joint ESA - JAXA mission to Mercury. It was launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on 20 October 2018.
During its seven year Journey, BepiColombo will perform multiple fly-bys of Earth, Venus and Mercury itself before entering into orbit around the innermost planet on 5 December 2025.
This simulation shows BepiColombo’s first and only Earth fly-by on Friday 10 April 2020, in an ‘inertial frame’ – where the spacecraft is moving in relation to a still Earth.
More than a year after its launch, this will be the last time BepiColombo will be so close to home, and is our final chance to wave goodbye.
The perigee (point of closest approach) is highlighted as a dot on the cyan-coloured trajectory, and will be passed at 04:24 UTC (06:24 CET). During the flyby, Earth’s strong gravity will deflect the trajectory of BepiColombo. This can be clearly seen as it dives below the equatorial plane (blue).
Local conditions permitting, BepiColombo can be expected to be observable from Brazil first. It should reach 10 degrees of elevation for a local observer in Rio de Janeiro just before the perigee pass. Shortly after, observers all over Latin America, from Chile to Mexico, will have a chance to see the spacecraft before it enters into Earth’s shadow at 05:01 UTC (03:01 in Rio, 01:01 in Chile, 00:01 in Peru, 23:01 in Mexico).
This animation illustrates observing locations in Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, the Very Large Telescope in northern Chile, Los Angeles and Victoria. These are represented by the ‘local zenith axis’ (lines sticking up from Earth’s surface) and the ‘local visibility cone’ – a 10 degree minimum elevation over the local horizon. These cones are shown in green while observations are possible, and in orange when BepiColombo is not observable.
BepiColombo will be in Earth’s shadow for 33 minutes. During this time, it cannot be observed. At 05:34 UTC (07:34 CET), the spacecraft will re-emerge from the shadow becoming visible to most of North and South America while it quickly flies away from Earth into the vastness of interplanetary space.
The distance to BepiColombo (or ‘Range’) and the angles between the Sun, spacecraft and observers in North and South America, are displayed on the left hand side.
Disclaimer: The spacecraft is not to scale and shown in an arbitrary attitude not representing the actual attitude during the fly-by.
Earth Texture: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Visible Earth
Milky Way: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Scientific Visualization Studio
Spacecraft model: ESA, sci.esa.int/bepicolombo/