MESSENGER


MESSENGER
MESSENGER
MESSENGER.jpg
Artist's rendering of MESSENGER orbiting Mercury.
Operator NASA / APL
Major contractors APL
Mission type Flyby / Orbiter
Flyby of Earth, Venus, Mercury
Satellite of Mercury
Orbital insertion date March 18, 2011 01:00 UTC[1]
Launch date August 3, 2004 06:15:56 UTC
(7 years, 3 months and 19 days ago)
Launch vehicle Delta II 7925H-9.5
Launch site Space Launch Complex 17B
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
Mission duration (began April 4, 2011)
 Earth flyby
 (completed 2005-08-02)

 Venus flyby 1
 (completed 2006-10-24)

 Venus flyby 2
 (completed 2007-06-05)

 Mercury flyby 1
 (completed 2008-01-14)

 Mercury flyby 2
 (completed 2008-10-06)

 Mercury flyby 3
 (completed 2009-09-29)

 Mercury orbit insertion
 (completed 2011-03-18)
COSPAR ID 2004-030A
Homepage JHU/APL website
Mass 485 kg (1,070 lb)
Power 450 W (Solar array / 11 NiH2 batteries)

The MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) space probe is a robotic NASA spacecraft in orbit around the planet Mercury. The 485-kilogram (1,070 lb) spacecraft was launched aboard a Delta II rocket in August 2004 to study the chemical composition, geology, and magnetic field of Mercury. It became the second mission after 1975's Mariner 10 to reach Mercury successfully when it made a flyby in January 2008, followed by a second flyby in October 2008,[2] and a third flyby in September 2009.[3][4] MESSENGER is furthermore the first spacecraft ever to orbit Mercury.[5]

The instruments carried by MESSENGER were tested on a complex series of flybys – the spacecraft flew by Earth once, Venus twice, and Mercury itself three times, allowing it to decelerate relative to Mercury with minimal fuel. MESSENGER successfully entered Mercury's orbit on 18 March 2011, and reactivated its science instruments on 24 March, returning the first photo from Mercury orbit on 29 March. MESSENGER's formal science data collection mission began on 4 April 2011.

Contents

Mission background

Previous missions

In 1973, Mariner 10 was launched to make multiple flyby encounters of Venus and Mercury. Mariner 10 provided the first detailed data of Mercury, mapping 40-45% of the surface.[6][7] The final flyby of Mercury by Mariner 10 occurred on March 16, 1975, ending close-range observations of the planet for over thirty years.

Proposals for the mission

In 1998, a study detailed a proposed mission to send an orbiting spacecraft to Mercury, as the planet was at that point the least-explored of the inner planets. In the years following the Mariner 10 mission, subsequent mission proposals to revisit Mercury had appeared too costly, requiring large quantities of propellant and a heavy lift launch vehicle. Moreover, inserting a spacecraft into orbit around Mercury is difficult, because a probe approaching on a direct path from Earth would be accelerated by the Sun's gravity and pass Mercury far too quickly to orbit it. However, using a trajectory designed by Chen-wan Yen in 1985, the study showed it was possible to seek a Discovery-class mission by using multiple, consecutive gravity assist, 'swingby' maneuvers around Venus and Mercury, in combination with minor propulsive trajectory corrections, to gradually slow the spacecraft and thereby minimize propellant needs.[8]

Mission objectives

The primary science objectives of the mission include:[citation needed]

  • determining accurately the surface composition of Mercury
  • characterizing the geological history of the planet
  • determining the precise strength of the magnetic field and its variation with position and altitude
  • investigating the presence of a liquid outer core by measuring Mercury's libration
  • determining the nature of the radar reflective materials at Mercury’s poles
  • investigating the important volatile species and their sources and sinks on and near Mercury.

The spacecraft was designed and built at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Science operations, managed by Dr. Sean Solomon as principal investigator, and mission operations are also conducted at JHU/APL.[9] The contrived acronym MESSENGER was chosen because Mercury was the messenger of the gods according to Roman mythology.

Spacecraft design

The MESSENGER bus measures 1.85 meters (73 in) tall, 1.42 m (56 in) wide and 1.27 m (50 in) deep. The bus is primarily constructed with four graphite fiber / cyanate ester composite panels which support the propellant tanks, the "LVA" (large velocity adjust) thruster, attitude monitors and correction thrusters, antennas, the instrument pallet, and a large ceramic-cloth sunshade, measuring 2.5 m (8.2 ft) tall and 2 m (6.6 ft) wide, for passive thermal control.[9]

Attitude control and propulsion

Main propulsion is via the 645 N, 317 sec.Isp bipropellant (hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide) LVA thruster. The spacecraft is designed to carry 607.8 kilograms (1,340 lb) of propellant and pressurizer (helium).[9]

Four 22 N (4.9 lbf) monopropellant thrusters provide spacecraft steering during main thruster burns, and ten 4 N (0.9 lbf) monopropellant thrusters are used for attitude control. For precision attitude control, a reaction wheel attitude control system was also included.[9]

Information for attitude control is provided by star trackers, an inertial measurement unit, and six sun sensors.[9]

Communications

The probe includes two small deep space transponders for communications with the Deep Space Network and three kinds of antennas: a high gain phased array whose main beam can be electronically steered in one plane, a medium-gain “fan-beam” antenna and a low gain horn with a broad pattern. The high gain antenna is used as transmit-only at 8.4 GHz, the medium-gain and low gain antennas transmit at 8.4 GHz and receive at 7.2 GHz, and all three antennas operate with right-hand circularly polarized (RHCP) radiation. One of each of these antennas is mounted on the front of the probe facing the sun, and one of each is mounted to the back of the probe facing away from the sun.[10]

Power

The space probe is powered by a two-panel, gallium arsenide/germanium (GaAs/Ge) solar array providing an average of 450 watts at Mercury. Each panel is rotatable and includes optical solar reflectors to balance the temperature of the array. Power is stored in a common-pressure-vessel, 23-ampere-hour nickel hydrogen battery, with 11 vessels and two cells per vessel.[9]

Computer and software

The computer system is based on the Integrated Electronics Module (IEM), a device which combines core avionics into a single box. The computer features two radiation-hardened IBM RAD6000, a 25 megahertz main processor and 10 MHz fault protection processor. For redundancy, the spacecraft carries a pair of identical IEM computers. For data storage, the spacecraft carries two solid-state recorders able to store up to one gigabyte each. The IBM RAD6000 main processor collects, compresses, and stores data from the MESSENGER instruments for later playback to Earth.[9]

MESSENGER uses a software suite called SciBox to simulate the orbit and instruments, in order to "choreograph the complicated process of maximizing the scientific return from the mission and minimizing conflicts between instrument observations, while at the same time meeting all spacecraft constraints on pointing, data downlink rates, and onboard data storage capacity."[11]

Scientific instruments

Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS)
MESSENGER - MDIS.jpg Includes two CCD cameras, a narrow-angle camera (NAC) and a wide-angle camera (WAC) mounted to a pivoting platform. The camera system will provide a complete map of the surface of Mercury at a resolution of 250 meters/pixel with 20–50 meters/pixel images of regions of geologic interest. Color imaging is possible only with the narrow-band filter wheel attached to the wide-angle camera.[12][13]
Gamma-Ray Spectrometer (GRS)
MESSENGER - GRS - GRNS.jpg Measures gamma-ray emissions from the surface of Mercury to determine the composition by detecting certain elements (oxygen, silicon, sulphur, iron, hydrogen, potassium, thorium, uranium) to a depth of 10 cm.[15][16]
Neutron Spectrometer (NS)
MESSENGER - NS.jpg Determines the hydrogen mineral composition to a depth of 40 cm by detecting low-energy neutrons that result from the collision of cosmic rays and the minerals.[15][16]
X-Ray Spectrometer (XRS)
MESSENGER - XRS.jpg Maps mineral composition within the top millimeter of the surface on Mercury by detecting X-ray spectral lines from magnesium, aluminum, sulphur, calcium, titanium, and iron, in the 1-10 keV range.[17][18]
Magnetometer (MAG)
MESSENGER - MAG.jpg Measures the magnetic field around Mercury in detail to determine the strength and average position of the field.[19][20]
Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA)
MESSEBGER - MLA.jpg Provides detailed information regarding the height of landforms on the surface of Mercury by detecting the light of an infrared laser as the light bounces off the surface. [21][22]
Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS)
MESSENGER - MASCS.jpg
Determines the characteristics of the tenuous atmosphere surrounding Mercury by measuring ultraviolet light emissions and the prevalence of iron and titanium minerals on the surface by measuring the reflectance of infrared light.[23][24]
Energetic Particle and Plasma Spectrometer (EPPS)
MESSENGER - EPPS.jpg
Measures the charged particles in the magnetosphere around Mercury using an Energetic Particle Spectrometer (EPS) and the charged particles that come from the surface using a Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer (FIPS).[25][26]
Radio Science (RS)
Measures the gravity of Mercury and the state of the planetary core by utilizing the spacecraft positioning data.[22][27]
Images of the spacecraft
Diagram of MESSENGER
Diagram of MESSENGER. 
MESSENGER assembly installation of solar panels Astrotech
MESSENGER assembly installation of solar panels Astrotech. 
Technicians prepare MESSENGER for transfer to a hazardous processing facility
Technicians prepare MESSENGER for transfer to a hazardous processing facility. 
Attachment of the Payload Assist Module to MESSENGER. The ceramic-cloth sunshade is prominent in this view
Attachment of the PAM to MESSENGER. The ceramic-cloth sunshade is prominent in this view. 

Mission profile

Timeline of observations

Date Event

2004-08-03
Spacecraft launched at 06:15:56 UTC
2005-08-02
2006-10-24
2008-01-14
2011-03-18
Mercury orbital insertion
[28][29][30][31][32]

Launch and trajectory

The MESSENGER probe was launched on August 3, 2004 at 06:15:56 UTC by NASA from Space Launch Complex 17B at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, aboard a Delta II 7925 launch vehicle. The complete burn sequence lasted 57 minutes bringing the spacecraft into a heliocentric orbit, with a final velocity of 10.68 km/s (6.64 miles/s) and sending the probe into a 7.9 billion-kilometer trajectory that took 6 years, 7 months and 16 days before its orbital insertion on March 18, 2011.[9]

Traveling to Mercury requires an extremely large velocity change (see delta-v) because Mercury's orbit is deep in the Sun's gravity well. If on a direct course from Earth to Mercury, a spacecraft is constantly accelerated as it falls toward the Sun, and arrives at Mercury with a velocity too high to achieve orbit without excessive use of fuel. For planets with an atmosphere, such as Venus and Mars, spacecraft can minimize their fuel consumption upon arrival by using friction with the atmosphere to enter orbit (aerocapture), or can briefly fire their rocket engines to enter into orbit followed by a reduction of the orbit by aerobraking. However, the tenuous atmosphere of Mercury is far too thin for these maneuvers. Instead, MESSENGER extensively used gravity assist maneuvers at Earth, Venus, and Mercury to reduce the speed relative to Mercury, then used its large rocket engine to enter into an elliptical orbit around the planet. The multi-flyby process greatly reduced the amount of propellant necessary to slow the spacecraft, but at the cost of prolonging the trip by many years and to a total distance of 4.9 billion miles. To further minimize the amount of necessary propellant, the spacecraft orbital insertion targeted a highly elliptical orbit around Mercury.

The elongated orbit has two other benefits: It allows the spacecraft time to cool after the times it is sandwiched between the hot surface and the sun, and it allows the spacecraft to measure the effects of solar wind and the magnetic fields of the planet at various distances, while still allowing close-up measurements and photographs of the surface and exosphere.

Exploded launch configuration diagram with MESSENGER and Delta 2 rocket
Exploded diagram of Delta II launch vehicle with MESSENGER 
The launch of MESSENGER on a Delta II launch vehicle
The launch of MESSENGER on a Delta II launch vehicle. 
Interplanetary trajectory of MESSENGER orbiter
Interplanetary trajectory of MESSENGER orbiter. 

Encounter with Earth

MESSENGER performed a successful Earth flyby a year after launch, on August 2, 2005, with the closest approach at 19:13 UTC at an altitude of 2,347 kilometers (1,458 statute miles) over central Mongolia. On December 12, 2005, a 524 second-long burn (Deep-Space Maneuver or DSM-1) of the large thruster adjusted the trajectory for the upcoming Venus flyby.[33]

During the Earth flyby, the MESSENGER team imaged the Earth and Moon using MDIS and checked the status of several other instruments observing the atmospheric and surface compositions and testing the magnetosphere and determining that all instruments tested were working as expected. This calibration period will be useful for ensuring accurate interpretation of data as the spacecraft orbits Mercury.[34]

A view of Earth from MESSENGER during its Earth flyby
A view of Earth from MESSENGER during its Earth flyby. 
Another view of Earth from MESSENGER during its Earth flyby
A view of Earth from MESSENGER during its Earth flyby. 
The Earth and Moon captured by the MESSENGER Wide Angle Camera from a distance of 183 million kilometers
The Earth and Moon captured by the MESSENGER from a distance of 183 million kilometers. 
Earth flyby sequence captured on December 12, 2005. Full size video here 

Encounter with Venus

On October 24, 2006 at 08:34 UTC, MESSENGER encountered Venus at an altitude of 2,992 kilometers (1,859 mi). During the encounter, MESSENGER passed behind Venus entering superior conjunction, a period when Earth was on the exact opposite side of the Solar System, with the Sun inhibiting radio contact. For this reason, no scientific observations were conducted during the flyby. Communication with the spacecraft was reestablished in late November and performed a deep space maneuver on December 12, to correct the trajectory to encounter Venus in a second flyby.[35]

On June 5, 2007, at 23:08 UTC, MESSENGER performed a second encounter of Venus at an altitude of 338 km (210 mi), for the greatest velocity reduction of the mission. During the encounter, all instruments were used to observe Venus and prepare for the following Mercury encounters. The encounter provided visible and near-infrared imaging data of the upper atmosphere of Venus. Ultraviolet and X-ray spectrometry of the upper atmosphere were also recorded, to characterize the composition. The ESA's Venus Express was also orbiting during the encounter, providing the first opportunity for simultaneous measurement of particle-and-field characteristics of the planet.[36]

Venus Imaged by MESSENGER on the first flyby of the planet
Venus imaged by MESSENGER on the first flyby of the planet. 
Venus imaged by MESSENGER on the second flyby of the planet
Venus imaged by MESSENGER on the second flyby of the planet. 
A more detailed image of Venus by MESSENGER on the second flyby of the planet
A more detailed image of Venus MESSENGER on the second flyby of the planet. 
Sequence of images as MESSENGER departs after the second flyby of the planet
Sequence of images as MESSENGER departs after the second flyby of the planet. 

Encounter with Mercury

MESSENGER made a flyby of Mercury on January 14, 2008 (closest approach 200 km above surface of Mercury at 19:04:39 UTC), followed by a second flyby on October 6, 2008.[2] MESSENGER executed one last flyby on September 29, 2009, that further slowed down the spacecraft.[3][4] Sometime during the closest approach of the last flyby, the spacecraft entered safe mode. Although this had no effect on the trajectory necessary for later orbit insertion, it resulted in the loss of science data and images that were planned for the outbound leg of the fly-by. The spacecraft had fully recovered by about 7 hours later.[37] One last deep space maneuver, DSM-5 was executed on November 24, 2009 at 22:45 UTC to provide the required velocity change for the scheduled Mercury orbit insertion on March 18, 2011, marking the beginning of a year-long orbital mission.[38]

Initial discoveries

On July 3, 2008, MESSENGER team member Thomas Zurbuchen announced that the probe discovered large amounts of water present in Mercury's exosphere, which was an unexpected finding.[39] MESSENGER also provided visual evidence of past volcanic activity on the surface of Mercury as well as evidence for a liquid planetary core.[39]

The first high-resolution color Wide Angle Camera image of Mercury acquired by MESSENGER
The first high-resolution color Wide Angle Camera image of Mercury acquired by MESSENGER 
Smooth plains on Mercury imaged by MESSENGER during the third flyby of the planet.
Smooth plains on Mercury imaged by MESSENGER during the third flyby of the planet. 
An image of part of the previously unseen side of the planet
An image of part of the previously unseen side of the planet. 
Lava-flooded craters and large expanses of smooth volcanic plains on Mercury.
Lava-flooded craters and large expanses of smooth volcanic plains on Mercury. 

Orbital insertion

The thruster maneuver to insert the craft into orbit began at 12:45 AM (00:45 hours) UTC on March 18, 2011. It lasted about 15 minutes, with confirmation that the craft was in Mercury orbit received at 1:10 AM UTC, March 18 (9:10 PM EDT, March 17, U.S.).[32] Mission lead engineer Eric Finnegan indicated that the spacecraft achieved a near-perfect orbit.[40] MESSENGER's orbit is highly elliptical, taking it within 200 kilometers (120 mi) of Mercury's surface and then 15,000 km (9,300 mi) away from it every twelve hours. This orbit was chosen to shield the probe from the heat radiated by Mercury's hot surface. Only a small portion of each orbit is at low altitude where the spacecraft is subjected to heating from the hot side of the planet.[41]

Charles Bolden and colleagues wait for news from MESSENGER
Charles Bolden and colleagues wait for news from MESSENGER 
Charles Bolden congratulates Eric Finnegan as the spacecraft successfully inserted itself in Mercury's orbit.
Charles Bolden congratulates Eric Finnegan following the successful orbital insertion. 
The first ever photograph from Mercury orbit, taken by MESSENGER, March 29, 2011.
The first ever photograph from Mercury orbit. 
A Chart of MESSENGER's Orbital Insertion
A chart showing MESSENGER's orbital insertion. 

Extended mission

In November 2011, NASA announced that the MESSENGER mission would be extended by one year, allowing the spacecraft to observe the 2012 solar maximum.[42]

Primary science

After orbital insertion, an eighteen-day commissioning phase took place. The supervising personnel switched on and tested the craft's science instruments to ensure they had completed the journey without damage.[43] The commissioning phase "demonstrated that the spacecraft and payload [were] all operating nominally, notwithstanding Mercury’s challenging environment.”[11]

The primary mission began as planned April 4, with MESSENGER orbiting once every twelve hours for an intended duration of twelve Earth months, the equivalent of two solar days on Mercury.[11] Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, said: “With the beginning today of the primary science phase of the mission, we will be making nearly continuous observations that will allow us to gain the first global perspective on the innermost planet. Moreover, as solar activity steadily increases, we will have a front-row seat on the most dynamic magnetosphere–atmosphere system in the Solar System.”[11]

On October 5, 2011, the scientific results obtained by MESSENGER during its first six terrestrial months in Mercury orbit were presented in a series of papers at the European Planetary Science Congress in Nantes, France.[44] Among the discoveries presented were the unexpectedly high concentrations of magnesium and calcium found on Mercury's nightside, and the fact that Mercury's magnetic field is offset far to the north of the planet's center.[44]

A Monochrome view of Mercury from MESSENGER
A monochrome image of Mercury from MESSENGER. 
A yet-unnamed crater with 'x' marked across its surface
An as-yet-unnamed crater with an 'x' marked across its surface. 
A South Polar Projection of Mercury
A south polar projection of Mercury. 
A close snapshot of Ridges near the South Pole
A close snapshot of ridges near Mercury's south pole. 

MESSENGER family portrait

MESSENGER captured a portrait of our solar system during November 2010. See full resolution image.

On February 18, 2011, a portrait of the Solar System was published to the MESSENGER website. The mosaic contains 34 images, acquired by the MDIS instrument during November 2010. All the planets are visible with the exception of Uranus and Neptune due to the vast distances. The "MESSENGER family portrait" is intended to be complementary to the "Voyager family portrait" acquired from outside the solar system on February 14, 1990.[45]

See also

References

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Synonyms:

Look at other dictionaries:

  • MESSENGER — Caractéristiques Organisation …   Wikipédia en Français

  • MESSENGER — bei den Startvorbereitungen NSSDC ID 2004 030A Missionsziel Merkur Auftraggeber NASA …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • MESSENGER — MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging …   Википедия

  • messenger — Ⅰ. messenger UK US /ˈmesɪndʒər/ noun [C] COMMUNICATIONS ► someone who takes a message or documents from one person to another: »The documents were delivered by special messenger. »I worked in my father s store as a messenger boy. → See also… …   Financial and business terms

  • Messenger — (englisch für „Bote“) steht für: Instant Messenger, ein Programm zur schriftlichen Sofortkommunikation MESSENGER, eine NASA Raumsonde Messenger (Band), eine deutsche Powermetal Band messenger RNA, RNA Transkript eines zu einem Gen gehörigen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Messenger — puede ser: ● Messenger artefacto enviado por la NASA a Mercurio en el 2004. ● Messenger es el tercer album de Edwin McCain, publicado el 15 de junio de 1999. ● MSN Messenger programa de mensajería instantánea a menudo nombrada como sólo Messenger …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Messenger — Mes sen*ger, n. [OE. messager, OF. messagier, F. messager. See {Message}.] 1. One who bears a message; the bearer of a verbal or written communication, notice, or invitation, from one person to another, or to a public body; specifically, an… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • messenger — (n.) c.1200, messager, from O.Fr. messagier messenger, envoy, ambassador, from message (see MESSAGE (Cf. message) (n.)). With parasitic n inserted by c.1300 for no apparent reason except that people liked to say it that way (Cf. PASSENGER (Cf.… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Messenger — (engl., spr. Messendscher), 1) der Bote; 2) Name mehrer Zeitungen …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Messenger — (engl., spr. méssindscher, »Bote«), Name von englischen Zeitungen und Zeitschriften …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • messenger — index forerunner, harbinger, informer (a person who provides information), liaison, plenipotentiary, proxy, representative (proxy) …   Law dictionary


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