The Absolute Cosmos: Solar Orbiter probe makes its first Venus flyby

Image credit: European Space Agency (ESA)

On 27 December 2020 at 7:39 a.m. EST, Solar Orbiter spacecraft made its first of many gravity assist flybys of planet Venus. The next flyby will be in August 2021.

At its closest approach, the probe was at about 7,500 kilometers from the top of the Venus’ cloud tops.

Launched in February 2020, Solar Orbiter is a joint venture between National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Solar Orbiter is a Sun observing satellite with main aim of performing detailed measurements of the inner heliosphere and solar wind along with close observations of Sun’s polar regions.

Solar Orbiter Trailer

To get to its intended orbit close to Sun, probe needs series of gravity assists from planet Venus, starting from December 27th Venus flyby. By that it will reach its operational orbit- which is an elliptical orbit with aphelion 0.91 Astronomical Units (AU) and perihelion 0.28 AU.

During its expected mission time duration of seven years, Solar Orbiter will make additional Venus flybys to raise its inclination from 0° to 24°. This will allow it to have a better view of Sun’s polar regions.

The inclination will further rise to 33°, if the extended mission gets approved.

Even though Solar Orbiter is not designed specifically to observe Venus, yet the probe is carrying instruments that focus on the immediate surroundings (environment).

During its 27th December gravity assist, probe gathered data using its magnetometer, radio and plasma waves instruments.

Scientists will be particularly interested in studying how Venus interacts with solar wind at that distance. Since Venus doesn’t have a magnetic field like Earth, solar wind interacts directly with planet instead of with that field here on Earth.

For more details: Hello, Venus! Solar Orbiter spacecraft makes first swing past planet

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