With a simple Google Cardboard-style virtual reality (VR) viewer, you can experience how it feels to be a spacecraft hurtling past Earth. This 360-degree VR simulation of a flyby manoeuvre performed by ESA’s Mercury-bound BepiColombo spacecraft takes you on a trip past Earth at the distance of only 12 700 km, closer than the orbit of Europe’s navigational satellites Galileo.
The simulation displays the field of view of two of BepiColombo’s science instruments (MERTIS and PHEBUS) and two of its three MCAM selfie cameras during the gravity-assist flyby at Earth on 10 April 2020.
The simulation was created using the SPICE software developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and data generated by the European Space and Astronomy Centre (ESAC)in Spain.
BepiColombo, a joint mission of ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), is on a seven-year cruise to Mercury, the smallest and innermost planet of the Solar System. Launched in October 2018, BepiColombo follows an intricate trajectory that involves nine gravity-assist flyby manoeuvres. In addition to the flyby at Earth, BepiColombo will perform two flybys at Venus and six at Mercury, its target planet. The manoeuvres slow down the spacecraft as it needs to constantly brake against the gravitational pull of the Sun in order to be able to enter the correct orbit around Mercury in 2025, ahead of commencing science operations in early 2026.
Credit: ESA SPICE Service/RHEA Group.
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