If you’re a fan of spacecraft selfies captured with planets in the background (yes, it’s a thing) then you can add this to your portfolio of favorites: it’s the bright limb of Venus captured by ESA/JAXA’s BepiColombo spacecraft during a gravity-assist flyby on August 10, 2021 from a distance of 1,573 kilometers/977 miles. This view was captured just after the spacecraft’s closest approach to the planet which was only 552 kilometers…a mere 343 miles!
The image was captured with one of the Mercury Transfer Module’s Monitoring Cameras (M-CAM 3) which are monochrome only and in 1024×1024 resolution and capture parts of the spacecraft in their field of view; here we can see the dish of the high-gain antenna at the top.
The higher-resolution, color-capable science camera on BepiColombo is currently shielded by the transfer module that will eventually deliver the mission’s two planetary orbiters to Mercury in early 2026.
According to an ESA news release on August 10, 2021:
The image has been lightly processed to enhance contrast and use the full dynamic range. A small amount of optical vignetting is seen in the bottom left of the image.
This was BepiColombo’s second close pass and imaging of Venus; the first was on October 15, 2020.
The next milestone for BepiColombo is its first flyby of Mercury, its target, on October 1-2 of this year. It will perform a total of six flybys of Mercury before ultimately entering orbit in December 2025.
More M-CAM images from the August 10 flyby can be seen in the video below:
(I must say this sequence showing the high-gain antenna swiveling as Venus fades into the distance is especially striking.)
BepiColombo is Europe’s first mission to Mercury. Launched on 20 October 2018, it is on a seven year journey to the smallest and least explored terrestrial planet in our Solar System. When it arrives at Mercury in late 2025, it will endure temperatures in excess of 350 °C and gather data during its one-year nominal mission, with a possible one-year extension. The mission comprises two spacecraft: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (Mio). BepiColombo is a joint mission between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), executed under ESA leadership. (Source/learn more)