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MESSENGER: 10th Anniversary of Launch

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MESSENGER Team Celebrates 10th Anniversary of Launch

MESSENGER Mission News

August 1, 2014

Ten years ago, on August 3, 2004, NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, for a risky mission that would take the small satellite dangerously close to Mercury's surface, paving the way for an ambitious study of the planet closest to the Sun. The spacecraft traveled 4.9 billion miles (7.9 billion kilometers) -- a journey that included 15 trips around the Sun and flybys of Earth once, Venus twice, and Mercury three times -- before it was inserted into orbit around its target planet in 2011.

"We have operated successfully in orbit for more than three Earth years and more than 14 Mercury years as we celebrate this amazing 10th anniversary milestone," said MESSENGER Mission Operations Manager Andy Calloway, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). "The MESSENGER spacecraft operates in one of the most challenging and demanding space environments in our Solar System, and we have met that challenge directly through innovation and hard work, as exemplified by the stunning discoveries and data return achievements. Our only regret is that we have insufficient propellant to operate another 10 years, but we look forward to the incredible science returns planned for the final eight months of the mission."

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MESSENGER Flyover Movie

This movie consists of 214 images acquired by MESSENGER’s Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) on June 8, 2014. The NAC field of view looks toward the horizon along the direction of spacecraft motion as the probe crossed the terminator into night. This view is what a traveler on the MESSENGER spacecraft might see during low-altitude operations over the next eight months. During the final phase of its mission, MESSENGER's science instruments will use low-altitude operations like this to explore the surface and subsurface of Mercury at unprecedented resolution.

The image frames were taken once per second while MESSENGER was at altitudes ranging from 115 to 165 kilometers, traveling at a speed of 3.7 kilometers per second relative to the surface. The movie is sped up by a factor of seven for ease of viewing. The images have resolutions ranging from 21 to 45 meters/pixel. Higher-resolution images of Mercury’s surface are possible if the camera is pointed directly below the spacecraft rather than looking to the horizon, and such operations are the routine approach for low-altitude imaging.

The MESSENGER spacecraft is the first ever to orbit the planet Mercury, and the spacecraft's seven scientific instruments and radio science investigation are unraveling the history and evolution of the Solar System's innermost planet. During the first two years of orbital operations, MESSENGER acquired over 150,000 images and extensive other data sets. MESSENGER is capable of continuing orbital operations until early 2015.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Source: MESSENGER - Movies

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