December 9, 2008
MESSENGER Gets Ready For Third Mercury Encounter in 2009
MESSENGER completed the second part of a two-part deep-space maneuver today, providing the remaining 10% velocity change needed to place the probe on course to fly by Mercury for the third time in September 2009.
Unlike most maneuvers, this one was conducted in a so-called "open loop," explained MESSENGER Project Manager Peter Bedini. "In closed-loop maneuvers, the accelerometers are used to trim the burn, and thrusters are employed as needed to adjust the direction as perceived by the accelerometers," said Bedini, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. "To test the unlikely scenario that we will not have accelerometer data for the huge Mercury orbit insertion, we did this second part without using those data as feedback."
"We are now on target for the third Mercury flyby next September," Bedini said. "The fifth deep-space maneuver two months later will position MESSENGER for Mercury orbit insertion in March 2011," enabling it to become the first spacecraft to orbit the innermost planet.
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