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18 March 2011

NASA and Johns Hopkins U. Messenger probe now orbiting Mercury!

Click image to enlarge.

(USA magazine)
Thursday 17 March 2011

NASA Probe Successfully 

Orbiting Mercury -- a First

by Rachel Kaufman

NASA made history tonight as the MESSENGER probe became the first spacecraft to orbit the tiny planet Mercury.

Launched in 2004, the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging mission marks the first time a craft has gone near Mercury since 1975, when NASA's Mariner 10 probe conducted flybys. (Get MESSENGER facts and figures.)

For the past six and a half years MESSENGER has been maneuvering itself into an orbital path via so-called gravity assists, using the tugs from flybys of Earth, Venus, and Mercury itself to speed up and alter course.
At 8:45 p.m. ET, MESSENGER performed a "burn"—essentially "riding its brakes" by firing its main thruster—to slow the spacecraft enough to be captured by Mercury's gravity.

The mission control team at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland was monitoring MESSENGER's progress from 96,000,000 miles (155,000,000 kilometers) away.

At 9:10 p.m. engineers confirmed that the burn had occurred. By 9:45 p.m. the probe had turned its antenna back toward Earth and began transmitting more detailed data showing that the 15-minute burn was "clean"—indicating that the probe has entered orbit.

As with burn sequences during the craft's previous flybys, the team had contingencies in place if MESSENGER had failed to enter orbit, Sean Solomon, principal investigator of MESSENGER's science mission, told reporters at a press briefing Tuesday.

But the backup plans, he said, didn't involve an immediate retry and would have substantially changed the time line of the mission.

Mercury Probe to Fill in Blanks

With orbital insertion complete, MESSENGER should start collecting science data by early April.

During the probe's year-long mission, it will orbit Mercury twice every 24 hours—conducting the equivalent of two flybys a day and sending back reams of data from a suite of onboard cameras and spectrographs.

For instance, being in orbit will allow the probe to take "ultra high-resolution images" of the planet's entire surface, said Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in D.C. (See pictures: "Mercury Craft Shows 'Spider,' Asteroid Assaults.")

Mariner 10 captured just 45 percent of the cratered surface before moving on, and the three previous MESSENGER flybys didn't quite fill in the whole picture.
MESSENGER will also be studying Mercury's atmosphere and inner structure, as well as its magnetic environment, which changes rapidly due to the planet's close interaction with the sun.

(Related: "Final Mercury Flyby Reveals Huge Magnetic 'Power Surges.'")
"We will benefit tremendously from being there, rather than having to take drive-by snapshots," Solomon said.

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Comments (2)


1:26 AM on March 18, 2011
- Is Messenger an orbiter/satellite AND probe?
- How does it's manuevers and activities like d-imaging, etc. work... are they all pre-programmed/physics-math calc?; and/or is it somehow signaled?
Truly AMAZING... just making a lump of something on Earth that doesn't melt- esp. the solar-satellites and getting it out there is INCREDIBLE...

~Sci-fi is alive!~

1 comment:

patfromch said...

the japanese want to go to Venus ? Brilliant ! so far the only ones with minor success were the russians who sent Venera 7 which was able to send about 75% of one image before it melted. When one General asked his team where they were standing one scientist replied: Sir,we are standing in (the) sh**. Ha !

the 300 billion the US just spent on Silly Undeclared Wars could have easily brought humanity to Mars with a manned mission or a nice unmanned trip to Europa to see what is under the ice. contrary to the silly wars these missions CAN be accomplished !