NASA’s MESSENGER mission to Mercury, carrying an instrument designed and built at LASP, is slated to run out of fuel and crash into the planet in the coming days after a wildly successful, four-year orbiting mission chock-full of discoveries.
The mission began in 2004, when the MESSENGER spacecraft launched from Florida on a 7-year, 4.7 billion mile journey that involved 15 loops around the sun before the spacecraft settled into orbit around Mercury in March 2011. LASP provided the Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS), which has been successfully making measurements of Mercury’s surface and its tenuous atmosphere, called the exosphere, since orbit insertion.
The NASA MESSENGER mission has found evidence for a significant amount of ice on Mercury, according to three papers published today in Science Express. Although Mercury is the closest planet to our Sun, MESSENGER data suggests that permanently shadowed pockets and craters near Mercury’s poles are cold enough to support water in the form of… Read more »
At approximately 7 p.m. MT on Thursday, March 17, after more than six and a half years and a nearly 5 billion mile journey, NASA’s MESSENGER mission became the first spacecraft to enter into orbit around the planet Mercury.
Analysis of data from the third and final fly-by of the MESSENGER spacecraft in September 2009 has revealed a treasure trove of new information on the solar system’s innermost planet. MESSENGER is on its way to Mercury, where it will settle into orbit in March 2011 and help scientists answer crucial questions about Mercury’s geology, density, structure, and magnetic field. Three fly-bys of the planet, spaced over twenty months, have been necessary to guide the spacecraft into its upcoming orbit around Mercury beginning in March 2011.