If the take-off of the Artemis 1 mission has been postponed, this Saturday 3 September 2022 remains of interest for those who have their heads in the stars. In fact, at 3:26 French time, the Solar Orbiter probe will touch Venus, flying over it at just over 6,000 kilometers.
This step will allow the probe to take some shots but also to use the gravity of the second planet closest to the Sun to regain momentum and change its angle.
By passing Venus, Solar Orbiter benefits from what is called gravitational assistance: the planet’s gravity will catapult the probe and correct its angle to return to the Sun. All this without having to use fuel!
Since its take-off in 2020, Solar Orbiter has already used Venus twice and Earth once for gravitational assistance. It is expected to fly over Venus nine times during its scientific mission, which is expected to last five to nine years.
The spacecraft, the result of a collaboration between the European Space Agency and NASA, has already sent exceptional data and images to Earth.
The Sun from all angles
These gravitational aids make it possible to change the angle at which the 1,800 kg probe flies over our star, which will allow us to study its poles, out of sight from Earth, between 2025 and 2030.
On the other hand, it will not be about touching the Sun. At its closest point, Solar Orbiter will be “only” 42 million kilometers from the surface. With a heat shield to withstand a temperature of 655 ° C. On March 26, 2022, the spacecraft flew over the star at 48 million kilometers and sent the most accurate images of the Sun ever to Earth.
After the bounce of this night thanks to Venus, Solar Orbiter will start again towards the Sun on which it will fly over at a good distance in October.