With today's flyby at 12:17 UTC (13:17 CET), the current Phobos flyby campaign will be complete.
Given the present polar and elliptical orbit of Mars Express (meaning that it orbits over the Red Planet's North and South poles and varies in altitude from fairly close to quite far away), and the near-circular and equatorial orbit of Phobos, encounters between the bodies can be expected every five months. However, the number of flybys, the geometry and the closest distances are always different.
The current campaign was unique: It stands out with a total of 12 fly-bys (more than any campaign before) and a minimum approach distance of 77 km from the centre of the moon, which corresponds to approx. 67 km from the surface (the closest flyby of any spacecraft to date).
So, what about the next campaigns? Let's look ahead to the next two flyby 'seasons.'
The next one will come in August 2010, with nine flybys within 1200 km from Phobos. The closest approach will be about 403 km over Phobos' night side, on 24 August 2010. Then, between December 2010 and January 2011, 10 flybys are planned, with the closest one coming within 96 km of the moon's ...