[FPSPACE] MESSENGER Begins Historic Orbit around Mercury

David R. Woods drwoods at stny.rr.com
Fri Mar 18 00:12:08 EDT 2011


*MESSENGER Mission News*
March 17, 2011
MESSENGER Begins Historic Orbit around Mercury
At 9:10 p.m. EDT, engineers in the MESSENGER Mission Operations Center 
at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in 
Laurel, Md., received the anticipated radiometric signals confirming 
nominal burn shutdown and successful insertion of the MESSENGER probe 
into orbit around the planet Mercury.

The spacecraft rotated back to the Earth by 9:45 p.m. EDT, and started 
transmitting data. Upon review of these data, the engineering and 
operations teams confirmed that the burn executed nominally with all 
subsystems reporting a clean burn and no logged errors.

MESSENGER’s main thruster fired for approximately 15 minutes at 8:45 
p.m., slowing the spacecraft by 1,929 miles per hour (862 meters per 
second) and easing it into the planned eccentric orbit about Mercury. 
The rendezvous took place about 96 million miles (155 million 
kilometers) from Earth.

“Achieving Mercury orbit was by far the biggest milestone since 
MESSENGER was launched more than six and a half years ago,” says 
MESSENGER Project Manager Peter Bedini, of APL. “This accomplishment is 
the fruit of a tremendous amount of labor on the part of the navigation, 
guidance-and-control, and mission operations teams, who shepherded the 
spacecraft through its 4.9-billion-mile [7.9-billion-kilometer] journey.”

For the next several weeks, APL engineers will be focused on ensuring 
that MESSENGER’s systems are all working well in Mercury’s harsh thermal 
environment. Starting on March 23, the instruments will be turned on and 
checked out, and on April 4 the primary science phase of the mission 
will begin.

“Despite its proximity to Earth, the planet Mercury has for decades been 
comparatively unexplored,” adds MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean 
Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “For the first time 
in history, a scientific observatory is in orbit about our solar 
system’s innermost planet. Mercury’s secrets, and the implications they 
hold for the formation and evolution of Earth-like planets, are about to 
be revealed.”

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