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 . Space History News - People and events in development of space travel Space History News - People and events in development of space travel Space History News - People and events in development of space travel  

Space History for September 29

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Died (burial date), Hans Lippershey, Dutch eyeglasses maker, inventor of the telescope (1608)

Asteroid #243 Ida was discovered by Johann Palisa.

Born, Enrico Fermi, physicist (Nobel 1938 "for his demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation, and for his related discovery of nuclear reactions brought about by slow neutrons")

Enrico Fermi (29 September 1901 - 28 November 1954) was an Italian-American physicist most noted for his work on beta decay, the development of the first nuclear reactor and for the development of quantum theory. Fermi won the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics.

See also

J Palisa discovered asteroid #718 Erida.

Born, Werner Kurt Gengelbach, German guided missile expert during World War II, member of the German Rocket Team in the US at Fort Bliss, Texas after the war (January 1947), moved to the private sector

Died, Rudolph C K Diesel, German engineer (compression combustion engine)

F Kaiser discovered asteroid #766 Moguntia.

K Reinmuth discovered asteroid #1035 Amata.

G Neujmin discovered asteroid #1075 Helina.

K Reinmuth discovered asteroid #1161 Thessalia.

E Delporte discovered asteroid #1170 Siva.

H Van Gent discovered asteroid #1694 Kaiser.

Born, C. William "Bill" Nelson (at Miami, Florida, USA), Florida Democrat US Senator, payload specialist astronaut (STS 61C, while serving in the US House)

Astronaut Bill Nelson, NASA photograph

Born, James Donald Halsell Jr (at West Monroe, Louisiana, USA), Colonel USAF, NASA astronaut (STS 65, STS 74, STS 83, STS 94, STS 101)

Astronaut James D. Halsell, Jr., STS-101 mission commander, NASA photo

Goethe Link Observatory discovered asteroid #3447.

1962 06:05:00 GMT
Alouette 1 was launched by the US, and Canada became the third nation to completely design and build a satellite.

Alouette 1, launched 29 September 1962 on a Thrust Augmented Thor-Agena B into a 996 km x 1,032 km orbit inclined 80.5 degrees with respect to the equator and with an orbital period of 105.5 minutes, was a small ionospheric observatory instrumented with an ionospheric sounder, a VLF receiver, an energetic particle detector, and a cosmic noise experiment. Extending from the satellite shell were two dipole antennas (45.7- and 22.8-meters long, respectively) which were shared by three of the experiments on the spacecraft. The satellite was spin stabilized at about 1.4 rpm after antenna extension. After about 500 days, the spin slowed more than had been expected, to about 0.6 rpm when satellite spin stabilization failed. It is believed that the satellite gradually progressed toward a gravity gradient stabilization with the longer antenna pointing earthward. Attitude information was deduced only from a single magnetometer and temperature measurements on the upper and lower heat shields. (Attitude determination could have been in error by as much as 10 degrees.) There was no tape recorder, so data were available only from the vicinity of telemetry stations. Telemetry stations were located to provide primary data coverage near the 80 degree W meridian and in areas near Hawaii, Singapore, Australia, Europe, and Central Africa. Initially, data were recorded for about 6 hours per day. In September 1972, spacecraft operations were terminated.

1964 21:00:00 GMT
NASA and the USAF launched X-15A-2 Stab.,Star tracker test mission # 118 in which Robert Rushworth reached a maximum speed of 5700 kph (Mach 5.20) and achieved a maximum altitude of 29.809 km, the nose gear scoop door caused handling difficulties.

1970 08:24:00 GMT
USSR launched the Molniya 1-15 communications satellite from Plesetsk for operation of the long range telephone and telegraph radio communication system, and transmission of USSR Central Television programs to the stations of the Orbita network.

1971 09:50:00 GMT
NASA launched Orbiting Solar Observatory-7 (OSO 7) into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with the TETR 4 Apollo tracking network test satellite lofted as a secondary payload which was injected into orbit from the booster's second stage.

The objectives of the OSO satellite series were to perform solar physics experiments above the atmosphere during a complete solar cycle, and to map the entire celestial sphere for the direction and intensity of UV light and X-ray and gamma radiation. The OSO 7 platform, launched 29 September 1971, consisted of a sail section, which pointed two experiments continually toward the Sun, and a wheel section, which spun about an axis perpendicular to the pointing direction of the sail and carried four experiments. Attitude adjustment was performed by gas jets and a magnetic torquing coil. A pointing control permitted the pointed experiments to scan the region of the solar disk in a 60- by 60-arc-min raster pattern. In addition, the pointed section could be commanded to select and scan any 7.5- by 5-arc-min region near the solar disk. Data were simultaneously recorded on tape and transmitted by PCM/PM telemetry. A command system provided for at least 155 ground-based commands. Only real-time data were received after May 1973 when the second tape recorder failed. The spacecraft reentered the Earth's atmosphere 9 July 1974.

T Gehrels discovered asteroid #2049 Grietje.

1973 11:34:00 GMT
USSR's Soyuz 12 landed 400 km SW of Karaganda.

Soyuz 12 was launched 27 September 1973 as an experimental flight for the purpose of further development of the manned space craft Soyuz 7K-T modifications. After the Soyuz 11 disaster, in which the crew died during re-entry when a breather valve opened prematurely and allowed the cabin air to leak away into space, the Soyuz underwent a redesign for increased reliability. Two solo test flights of the new design were planned. Crews for the first flight were those already planned for the deferred follow-on missions to the failed DOS 2 and DOS 3 space stations.

During their two days in space, Commander Vasiliy Lazarev and Flight Engineer Oleg Makarov acquired spectrographic data of separate sections of the Earth, and evaluated a new space suit design, in addition to checking out the improvements made to the Soyuz craft.

Soyuz 12 was recovered 29 September 1973 after it landed 400 km SW of Karaganda.

Born, Nataliya Gromushkina, Russian actress, cosmonaut candidate (Energia Engineer Group 14 Supplemental - 1998) (inactive), selected to appear in a film to be filmed aboard the Mir space station, accomplished some training, but the project was cancelled

1977 06:50:00 GMT
USSR launched the Salyut 6 space station into orbit from Baikonur, which was occupied by six resident crews with durations up to 185 days.

Salyut 6 was a second generation Soviet space station launched 29 September 1977 to conduct scientific and technical research and experiments, and for further testing of the station design, on-board systems, and equipment. With Salyut 6, the Soviet space station program evolved from short-duration to long-duration stays. It was launched unmanned, and crews arrived later in Soyuz spacecraft. It had two docking ports, which permitted refueling and resupply by automated Progress freighters derived from Soyuz. The Progress vessels docked automatically at the aft port, and were then opened and unlocked by cosmonauts on the station. Transfer of fuel to the station took place automatically under supervision from the ground. A second docking port also meant long-duration resident crews could receive visitors. Visiting crews often included cosmonaut researchers from Soviet bloc countries or countries sympathetic to the Soviet Union. Vladimir Remek of Czechoslovakia, the first space traveler not from the US or USSR, visited Salyut 6 in 1978. The station received 16 cosmonaut crews, including six long-duration crews. The longest stay time for a Salyut 6 crew was 185 days. The first long-duration crew stayed for 96 days, beating the 84 day world record for space endurance established in 1974 by the last Skylab crew. The station hosted cosmonauts from Hungary, Poland, Romania, Cuba, Mongolia, Vietnam, and East Germany. Twelve Progress freighters delivered more than 20 tons of equipment, supplies and fuel. An experimental transport logistics spacecraft called Cosmos 1267 permanently docked with Salyut 6 in 1981. The transport logistics spacecraft was originally designed for the Almaz program. Cosmos 1267 proved that large modules could dock automatically with space stations, a major step toward the multimodular Mir station and the International Space Station.

Salyut 6 had six resident crews. The Soyuz 25 mission's docking attempts were unsuccessful. On 10 December 1977, the first crew, Yuri Romanenko and Georgi Grechko, arrived on Soyuz 26 and remained aboard Salyut 6 for 96 days. They performed an EVA on 20 December 1977 to examine the forward docking port, and found no damage. On 15 June 1978, Vladimir Kovalyonok and Alexander Ivanchenkov (Soyuz 29) arrived and remained on board for 140 days. They performed an EVA on 29 July 1978 to retrieve externally mounted experiments (micrometeorites, biopolymers, radiation plates, materials tests). Vladimir Lyakhov and Valeri Ryumin (Soyuz 32) arrived on 25 February 1979 and stayed 175 days. Soyuz 33 failed to dock due to a propulsion failure in April 1979. Soyuz 34 was launched unmanned to provide a replacement vehicle in June 1979. An EVA on 15 August 1979 was made to dislodge the 10 meter diameter KRT-10 radio telescope from the aft docking collar. On 9 April 1980, Leonid Popov and Valeri Ryumin (Soyuz 35) arrived for the longest stay on Salyut 6, 185 days. A repair mission, consisting of Leonid Kizim, Oleg Makarov, and Gennadiy Strekhalov (Soyuz T3) worked on the space station's temperature control hydraulics for 12 days starting on 27 November 1980. On 12 March 1981, the last crew, Vladimir Kovalyonok and Viktor Savinyikh, arrived and stayed for 75 days. The Soyuz T-4 repair mission arrived in March 1981 to fix a stuck solar array. During its occupied life, there were also 10 visiting missions to Salyut 6, carrying crews which came to bring supplies and make shorter duration visits with the resident crews.

Salyut ejected a module on 31 May 1981, perhaps a previously retained Soyuz Orbital Module. Kosmos 1267 docked with Salyut 6 on 19 June 1981. The space station was commanded to perform a reentry maneuver using the Kosmos 1267 propulsion system over Pacific on 29 July 1982.

Z Vavrova discovered asteroids #2599 Veseli and #2647.

L Zhuravleva discovered asteroid #3622.

Died, Aleksandr Mikhailov, a leading Russian astronomer, member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, director of the Pulkovo Observatory

1983 17:37:00 GMT
USSR launched the Ekran 11 communications satellite from Baikonur to transmit Central Television programs to a network of receivers for collective use, which was positioned in geosynchronous orbit at 99 deg E 1983-1984.

1987 12:50:00 GMT
USSR launched the Bion 8 (Cosmos 1887) bio satellite from Plesetsk, carrying monkeys Drema and Erosha, to continue investigation of the influence of space flight on living organisms, and radiation physics research. The capsule was recovered 12 October.

1988 09:07:00 GMT
USSR launched the Molniya 3-33 communications satellite to operate the long range telephone and telegraph communications system, and transmit USSR Central Television programs to stations in the Orbita and cooperating international networks.

1988 11:37:00 EDT (GMT -4:00:00)
NASA launched STS 26 (Discovery 7, 26th Shuttle mission) carrying the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-3 (TDRS-C) to orbit in the return-to-flight mission following the Challenger disaster.

STS 26 was launched 29 September 1988, and NASA's Space Shuttle returned to flight following the Challenger disaster. The launch was delayed one hour 38 minutes to replace fuses in the cooling system of two of the crew's new partial pressure launch/entry suits, and due to lighter than expected upper atmospheric winds. The suit repairs were successful, and the countdown continued after a waiver of the wind condition constraint.

The STS 26 mission marked the resumption of Shuttle flights after the 1986 STS 51-L (Challenger) accident. The primary payload, NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-3 (TDRS-3) attached to an Inertial Upper Stage (IUS), became the second TDRS deployed. After deployment, the IUS propelled the satellite to geosynchronous orbit. Secondary payloads on STS 26 were: Physical Vapor Transport of Organic Solids (PVTOS); Protein Crystal Growth (PCG); Infrared Communications Flight Experiment (IRCFE); Aggregation of Red Blood Cells (ARC); Isoelectric Focusing Experiment (IFE); Mesoscale Lightning Experiment (MLE); Phase Partitioning Experiment (PPE); Earth-Limb Radiance Experiment (ELRAD); Automated Directional Solidification Furnace (ADSF); and two Shuttle Student Involvement Program (SSIP) experiments. The Orbiter Experiments Autonomous Supporting Instrumentation System-1 (OASIS-1) recorded a variety of environmental measurements during various inflight phases of the orbiter.

A Ku-band antenna in the payload bay was deployed; however, the dish antenna command and actual telemetry did not correspond. Also, the orbiter cabin Flash Evaporator System iced up, raising the crew cabin temperature into the mid-80s (Farenheit).

STS 26 ended 3 October 1988 when Discovery landed on revolution 64 on Runway 17, Edwards Air Force Base, California. Rollout distance: 7,451 feet. Rollout time: 46 seconds. Launch weight: 254,606 pounds. Landing weight: 194,184 pounds. Orbit altitude: 203 nautical miles. Orbit inclination: 28.5 degrees. Mission duration: four days, one hour, zero minutes, 11 seconds. Miles traveled: 1.7 million. The orbiter was returned to the Kennedy Space Center on 8 October 1988.

The flight crew for STS 26 was: Frederick H. Hauck, Commander; Richard O. Covey, Pilot; John M. Lounge, Mission Specialist 1; George D. Nelson, Mission Specialist 2; David C. Hilmers, Mission Specialist 3.

The Ulysses space probe completed its second (north) passage over one of the Sun's poles.

The primary objectives of Ulysses, formerly the International Solar Polar Mission (ISPM), were to investigate, as a function of solar latitude, the properties of the solar wind and the interplanetary magnetic field, of galactic cosmic rays and neutral interstellar gas, and to study energetic particle composition and acceleration. The 55 kg payload included two magnetometers, two solar wind plasma instruments, a unified radio/plasma wave instrument, three energetic charged particle instruments, an interstellar neutral gas sensor, a solar X-ray/cosmic gamma-ray burst detector, and a cosmic dust sensor. The communications systems was also used to study the solar corona and to search for gravitational waves. Secondary objectives included interplanetary and planetary physics investigations during the initial Earth-Jupiter phase and investigations in the Jovian magnetosphere.

Ulysses was deployed from NASA's shuttle Discovery during the STS 41 mission on 6 October 1990. On leaving Earth, the spacecraft became the fastest ever artificially accelerated object, by means of two upper stages. The spacecraft used a Jupiter swingby on 8 February 1992 to transfer to a heliospheric orbit with high heliocentric inclination, and passed over the rotational south pole of the Sun in mid-1994 at 2 AU, and over the north pole in mid-1995. A second solar orbit took Ulysses again over the south and north poles in years 2000 and 2001, respectively. The Ulysses mission was extended until 30 June 2009, enabling it to continue operating while flying over the Sun's poles for the third time in 2007 and 2008.

On 1 May 1996, Ulysses unexpectedly crossed the ion tail of Comet Hyakutake (C/1996 B2), revealing the tail to be at least 3.8 AU in length.

The spacecraft was powered by a single radio-isotope generator. It was spin stabilized at a rate of 5 rpm and its high-gain antenna pointed continuously to the Earth, communicating on frequencies of 2111.6073/2293.1481 MHz and 8408.2099 MHz. A nutation anomaly after launch was controlled by CONSCAN.

Ulysses was commanded to switch off its transmitter at 20:15 UTC on 30 June 2009 after 6842 days (18 years 8 months 24 days) in orbit, due to the fact its orbital path was carrying the spacecraft away from Earth, and the ever-widening gap progressively limited the amount of data that could be transmitted.

The original mission planned for two spacecraft, one built by ESA and the other by NASA. NASA cancelled its spacecraft in 1981.

See also:
NASA/JPL Ulysses website
ESA Ulysses website

1997 04:47:00 GMT
India launched their IRS-1D landsat into orbit from Sriharikota on a PSLV booster.

Asteroid #4179 Toutatis passed within four Lunar distances of Earth.

2004 15:13:00 GMT
Scaled Composites/Mojave Aerospace launched the Tier One SpaceShipOne Flight 16P - X-Prize Flight 1 in which SpaceShipOne coasted to a 103 km altitude and successfully completed the first of two X-Prize flights.

Scaled Composites/Mojave Aerospace launched the Tier One SpaceShipOne Flight 16P - X-Prize Flight 1 on 29 September 2004, in which Mike Melvill piloted SpaceShipOne to a 103 km altitude, and successfully completed the first of two X-Prize flights. The motor was shut down when the pilot noted that his altitude predictor exceeded the required 100 km mark. The motor burn lasted 77 seconds, 1 second longer than on the 21 June flight. Melvill was prepared to burn the motor up to 89 seconds, which indicates significant additional performance remains in SS1. During the motor burn the spacecraft began to roll uncontrollably, but Melvill pressed on despite advice from the ground to shut the motor down and abort the attempt.

Died (complications from an operation, at Moscow, Russia), Gennadi Vasiliyevich Sarafanov, Soviet cosmonaut (Soyuz 15)

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took its first high resolution image from its science orbit, resolving items as small as 90 cm (3 feet) in diameter.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), launched 12 August 2005 on an Atlas V, was designed to orbit Mars over a full Martian year and gather data with six scientific instruments, including a high-resolution imager. The science objectives of the mission are to: characterize the present climate of Mars and its physical mechanisms of seasonal and interannual climate change; determine the nature of complex layered terrain on Mars and identify water-related landforms; search for sites showing evidence of aqueous and/or hydrothermal activity; identify and characterize sites with the highest potential for landed science and sample return by future Mars missions; and return scientific data from Mars landed craft during a relay phase. MRO was planned to return high resolution images, study surface composition, search for subsurface water, trace dust and water in the atmosphere, and monitor weather.

The launch window opened at Kennedy Space Center on 10 August 2005, with launch opportunities available until 5 September. The cruise to Mars took about seven months and included checkouts, calibrations, navigation, and three trajectory correction maneuvers (TCMs). The planned fourth TCM and possible fifth TCM were not required, saving 60 pounds (27 kg) of fuel, usable during MRO's extended mission. On 10 March 2006, MRO reached Mars and performed a Mars orbit insertion maneuver, passing under the southern hemisphere of Mars at an altitude of 370–400 km (230–250 mi) and firing its main engines for about 27 minutes. Signals that the burn had started reached Earth at 21:24 UT (4:24 PM EST) on 10 March. With 6 minutes left in the burn MRO passed behind Mars as seen from Earth. Radio communication resumed when it re-emerged about 30 minutes later.

The 1641 second orbit insertion burn slowed the spacecraft by about one km/sec, leaving it in a 400 x 35000 km polar capture orbit with a 35.5 hour period. The helium pressurization tank was colder than expected, which reduced the pressure in the fuel tank by about 21 kilopascals (3.0 psi). The reduced pressure caused the diminished engine thrust by 2%, but MRO automatically compensated by extending the burn time by 33 seconds. Shortly after insertion, the periapsis (closest approach to Mars) was 426 km (265 mi) from the surface (3,806 km (2,365 mi) from the planet's center). The apoapsis (the farthest distance from Mars) was 44,500 km (27,700 mi) from the surface (47,972 km (29,808 mi) from the planet's center).

Aerobraking was used over the next five months, from 30 March to 30 August 2006, to lower the orbit. MRO fired its thrusters twice more in September 2006 to fine-tune its final, nearly circular science orbit to approximately 250 to 316 km (155 to 196 mi) above the Martian surface (with periapsis over the south pole and apoapsis over the north pole). There are twelve sun-synchronous orbits per day so that the orbiter will always see the ground at 3:00 PM local time at the equator.

The SHARAD radar antennas were deployed on 16 September 2006. All of the scientific instruments were tested and most were turned off prior to the solar conjunction which occurred from 7 October to 6 November 2006. The "primary science phase" began after the conjunction ended.

MRO took its first high resolution image from its science orbit on 29 September 2006, resolving items as small as 90 cm (3 feet) in diameter. On 6 October, NASA released detailed pictures from the MRO of Victoria crater with the Opportunity rover on the rim above it. On 17 November 2006 NASA announced the successful test of the MRO as an orbital communications relay: Using the NASA rover Spirit as the point of origin for the transmission, the MRO acted as a relay for transmitting data back to Earth.

HiRISE continues to return images enabling discoveries regarding the geology of Mars. Among these is the banded terrain observations indicating the presence and action of liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) or water on the surface of Mars in its recent geological past. HiRISE photographed the Phoenix lander during its parachute descent to Vastitas Borealis on 25 May 2008 (sol 990). On 6 August 2012 (sol 2483) the orbiter passed over Gale crater, the landing site of the Mars Science Laboratory mission, during its EDL phase. The HiRISE camera captured an image of the Curiosity rover descending with its backshell and supersonic parachute.

On 3 March 2010, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter passed another significant milestone, having transmitted over 100 terabits of data back to Earth, which was more than all other interplanetary probes sent from Earth combined.

Science operations took place nominally from the end of solar conjunction in November 2006 to the start of the next solar conjunction in November 2008, roughly one Martian year. Following the nominal mission, extended science and communications relay missions have been undertaken.

In November 2006, problems began to surface with two MRO instruments: A stepping mechanism in the Mars Climate Sounder (MCS) skipped on multiple occasions, resulting in a field of view that is slightly out of position. By December normal operations of the instrument were suspended, although a mitigation strategy allows the instrument to continue making most of its intended observations. Also, an increase in noise and resulting bad pixels has been observed in several CCDs of the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). Operation of the camera with a longer warm-up time has alleviated the issue, but the cause is still unknown and the problem may return. The orbiter continued to experience recurring problems in 2009, including four spontaneous resets, culminating in a four-month shut-down of the spacecraft from August to December. While engineers did not determine the cause of the recurrent resets, they have created new software to help troubleshoot the problem should it recur.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter consists of a main bus, constructed of titanium, carbon composites, and aluminum honeycomb. Extending from the bus are two solar panel wings and a 3 meter high-gain antenna dish. The bus houses the propulsion system, telecommunications, command, guidance, and science instruments. The maximum spacecraft mass was 2180 kg, including 1149 kg of propellants.

Propulsion is provided by a total of 20 thrusters. Six 170N monopropellant (hydrazine) main-engine thrusters were used for the Mars Orbit insertion burn, which used about 70% of the total fuel onboard. Six 22N thrusters are used for trajectory correction maneuvers and eight 0.9N thrusters for pointing. All thrusters are fed from a single propellant tank mounted near the center of the main bus. A pressurant tank is used to force propellant to the motors. Spacecraft control is achieved with the use of reaction wheels and reaction control system thrusters. Navigation and attitude knowledge is determined by 16 Sun sensors, two star tracker cameras, and two inertial measurement units which use accelerometers and gyroscopes.

Two way telecommunications is done via X-band at about 8000 MHz, primarily through the 3 m diameter steerable high-gain dish antenna. Two low-gain Ka-band antennas, mounted on the high-gain dish, are also available for transmission and reception. Two transponders and three TWT amplifiers allow maximum data rates of 6 megabits/sec. Power is provided by the two solar cell array wings mounted on opposite side of the bus. Each array has an area of 10 square meters and contains 3744 solar cells. The panels produce 1000 Watts at Mars which is used to run the equipment directly, and to charge two nickel-hydrogen 50 A-hr, 32-volt batteries. Thermal control is achieved by a combination of radiators, surface coatings, insulation, and heaters.

MRO's science payload includes the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), a visible stereo imaging camera; the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), a visible/near-infrared spectrometer to study the surface composition; the Mars Climate Sounder (MCS), an infrared radiometer to study the atmosphere, a shallow subsurface sounding radar (SHARAD) provided by the Italian Space Agency to search for underground water; the Context Camera (CTX), to provide wide-area views; and the Mars Color Imager (MARCI), to monitor clouds and dust storms. In addition, there are three engineering instruments aboard MRO: the Electra UHF communications and navigation package, used as a relay between the Earth and other Mars missions; the optical navigation camera, tested for possible navigational use on future planetary spacecraft; and the Ka-band telecommunications experiment package, for testing high performance Ka-band communications. Engineering accelerometer data is used to study the structure of the Martian atmosphere, and tracking of the orbiter is used to study the gravity field of Mars.

New Mars Camera's First Image of Mars from Mapping Orbit, NASA/JPL/UA photo

Died, Pavel Romanovich Popovich, cosmonaut (Vostok 4, Salyut 3), commander of the first military space station mission

2009 21:54:58 GMT
NASA's MESSENGER made its sixth planetary flyby on its way to Mercury orbit, passing Mercury a third time at roughly 228 km altitude in its heliocentric orbit.

The Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) mission was designed to study the characteristics and environment of Mercury from orbit. Specifically, the scientific objectives of the mission were to characterize the chemical composition of Mercury's surface, the geologic history, the nature of the magnetic field, the size and state of the core, the volatile inventory at the poles, and the nature of Mercury's exosphere and magnetosphere over a nominal orbital mission of one Earth year.

MESSENGER launched into a parking orbit on 3 August 2004 on a Delta 7925H (a Delta II Heavy launch vehicle with nine strap-on solid-rocket boosters). The Delta booster second stage's second burn raised the orbit, then the PAM-D solid motor burned to put the probe on an escape trajectory into a 0.92 x 1.08 AU x 6.4 deg heliocentric orbit. The spacecraft was injected into solar orbit 57 minutes after launch. The solar panels were then deployed and the spacecraft began sending data on its status.

One year after launch, on 2 August 2005, MESSENGER flew by Earth at an altitude of 2347 km. On 12 December 2005 at 11:30 UT, MESSENGER fired its large thruster for 524 seconds, changing the spacecraft velocity by 316 m/s and putting it on course for its 24 October 2006 Venus flyby at an altitude of 2990 km. The second Venus flyby took place on 5 June 2007 at 23:08 UT (7:08 p.m. EDT) at an altitude of approximately 337 km. The first of three Mercury flybys, all at roughly 200 km altitude, occurred on 14 January 2008 at 19:04 :39 UT, and the second on 6 October 2008 at 08:40:22 UT. The third took place on 29 September 2009 at 21:54:58 UT at a distance of 228 km. There were also five deep space manuevers. Data collected during the Mercury flybys was used to help plan the scientific campaign during the orbital phase.

Mercury orbit insertion took place with a 15 minute burn starting at 00:45 UT on 18 March 2011 (8:45 p.m. 17 March EDT) requiring a delta-V of 0.862 km/s from the Aerojet 660N engine. Science observations began on April 4 at 20:40 UT (4:40 p.m. EDT). The nominal orbit had a periapsis of 200 km at 60 degrees N latitude, an apoapsis of 15,193 km, a period of 12 hours and an inclination of 80 degrees. The periapsis slowly rose due to solar perturbations to over 400 km at the end of 88 days (one Mercury year) at which point it was readjusted to a 200 km, 12 hour orbit via a two burn sequence.

Data was collected from orbit for one Earth year, the end of the primary mission was in March 2012. Extensions to the mission allowed the spacecraft to operate for an additional 3 years until the propellant necessary to maintain its orbit was exhausted. The MESSENGER spacecraft impacted the surface of Mercury as planned on 30 April 2015 at 19:26 UT (3:26 p.m. EDT).

Global stereo image coverage at 250 m/pixel resolution was completed. The mission has also yielded global composition maps, a 3-D model of Mercury's magnetosphere, topographic profiles of the northern hemisphere, gravity field, altitude profiles of elemental species, and a characterization of the volatiles in permanently shadowed craters at the poles.

The MESSENGER spacecraft was a squat box (1.27 m x 1.42 m x 1.85 m) with a semi-cylindrical thermal shade (roughly 2.5 meters tall and 2 meters wide) for protection from the Sun and two solar panel wings extending radially about 6 meters from tip to tip. A 3.6 meter magnetometer boom also extended from the craft. The total mass of the spacecraft was 1093 kg, 607.8 kg of which was propellant and helium. The structure was primarily graphite-cyanate-ester (GrCE) composite and consisted of two vertical panels which supported two large fuel tanks, and two vertical panels which supported the oxidizer tank and plumbing panel. The four vertical panels made up the center column and were bolted at their aft ends to an aluminum adapter. A single top deck panel mounted the LVA (large velocity adjust) thruster, small thrusters, helium and auxiliary fuel tanks, star trackers and battery.

Main propulsion was via the 645-N, 317-s bipropellant LVA thruster, four 22-N monopropellant thrusters providing spacecraft steering during main thruster burns, and ten 4-N monopropellant thrusters used for attitude control. There was also a reaction-wheel attitude control system. Knowledge for attitude control was provided by star tracking cameras, an inertial measurement unit, and six solar sensors. Power was provided by the solar panels, which extended beyond the sunshade and were rotatable to balance panel temperature and power generation, and provided a nominal 450 W in Mercury orbit. The panels were 70% optical solar reflectors and 30% GaAs/Ge cells. The power was stored in a common-pressure-vessel nickel-hydrogen battery, with 11 vessels and 2 cells per vessel.

Communications were in the X-band, with downlink through two fixed phased-array antenna clusters, and uplink and downlink through medium- and low-gain antennas on the forward and aft sides of the spacecraft. Passive thermal control, primarily a fixed opaque ceramic cloth sunshade, was utilized to maintain operating temperatures near the Sun. Radiators were built into the structure and the orbit was optimized to minimize infrared and visible light heating of the spacecraft from the surface of Mercury. Multilayer insulation, low conductivity couplings, and heaters were also used to maintain temperatures within operating limits.

Five science instruments were mounted externally on the bottom deck of the main body: the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), Gamma-Ray and Neutron Spectrometer (GRNS), X-ray Spectrometer (XRS), Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA), and Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS). The Energetic Particle and Plasma Spectrometer (EPPS) was mounted on the side and top deck and the magnetometer (MAG) was at the end of the 3.6 m boom. Radio Science (RS) experiments used the existing communications system.

The highly successful orbital mission came to an end after more than four years in orbit around Mercury, as the spacecraft ran out of propellant and the force of solar gravity caused it to impact the surface of Mercury at 3:26 p.m. EDT on 30 April 2015.

More information about the spacecraft and its research results can be found on the MESSENGER Web site at John Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory.

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