A spacecraft, BepiColombo, will harness the gravity of our planet to prepare its trajectory towards Mercury, a journey that will last for five years.
The probe, which is known under the name of BepiColombo, consists of two linked modules. One of them was designed by the European Space Agency, and it carries 11 instruments that will be used to study the planet from a fixed orbit. JAXA (the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) developed the second module, which will spin around the orbit of the planet while performing observation.
When the spacecraft reaches the planet, the two modules will split to follow their own orbits as an attempt to gather data about the surface and the core. However, before research begins, the journey to Mercury has to be completed, and the task seems to be quite daunting.
BepiColomba is on its way to Mercury
BepiColombo was launched more in 2018, and current data infers that it will spend more than seven years on the journey. A significant amount of time has been spent on the quest to determine a path that will allow the spacecraft to reach Mercury safely.
Since Mercury is so close to the sun spacecraft which head towards it are highly susceptible to the intense gravitational pull exerted by the sun, which increases the speed at which spacecraft travel. Controllers have to track every step of the journey and use breaks to slow down the spacecraft before it goes beyond Mercury and towards the sun.
While the spacecraft is fitted with ion thrusters, they are not powerful enough to allow it to reach the orbit on its own. A series of planetary flybys will be used to slow down the spacecraft as it moves across the solar system, with the first stop being Earth. Two flybys will take place around Venus and six around Mercury to ensure that the proper velocity will be achieved.