On a grand tour through the solar system Magnetometer of the TU Braunschweig on another Venus flyby
On August 10, 2021, the European-Japanese BepiColombo mission made a stopover at Venus on its way to Mercury. Scientists from the Technical University Braunschweig are participating in this mission with magnetometers. The sensors were used to measure the interaction of the solar wind with Venus during the flyby.
Researchers at the Institute of Geophysics and Extraterrestrial Physics (IGEP) are eagerly awaiting the new data from the BepiColombo mission’s flyby of Venus. During the flight phase to Mercury, the two scientific BepiColombo satellites are connected to the so-called transfer module and will only separate after arrival. IGEP magnetometers are installed on both satellites. Since the 2018 rocket launch, the magnetometers on the satellites have already travelled 280 million kilometers in the solar system on quite complicated orbits. The real target, however, is Mercury. But before the mission will arrive there in 2025, it will aim at various planets in order to be catapulted to the target planet via the solar system with as little fuel as possible. On August 10, Venus was once again the target of one of these maneuvers, where BepiColombo came within 550 kilometers of the surface of Venus. The maneuver had to be planned down to the last detail to avoid a collision. The proximity to the planet also affects the satellite’s temperature, as the sun shines from one side and Venus from the other. This situation is comparable to an oven with top and bottom heat that the electronics have to withstand. During this flyby, the Braunschweigers activated their instrument on board the BepiColombo satellite and measured the interaction of the solar wind with Venus. This flyby is unique, since another mission (SolarOrbiter) already passed Venus the day before, and the measurement data from independent missions can then be compared with each other. The IGEP researchers are also involved in these magnetometers.
After Venus, the mission is also being prepared for another milestone. As early as October 2 of this year, the probe will fly past Mercury. The flyby will make it possible to measure the magnetic field of Mercury’s southern hemisphere for the first time. Unfortunately, it will only be a brief rendezvous. Five more of these flybys will follow before the satellites have the right speed to enter orbit and researchers at IGEP will be able to continue studying Mercury from 2025.
The overall management of the BepiColombo mission lies with the European Space Agency (ESA), which was also responsible for the development and construction of the Mercury Planetary Orbiter. The Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter was contributed by the Japanese space agency JAXA. This second satellite is also equipped with magnetometers, for which IGEP cooperates with Japanese institutes. The German contribution to BepiColombo is financed by DLR Space Management with funds from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) and funds from the TU Braunschweig.