March 22, 2011

Spacecraft Data Confirm MESSENGER Orbit and Operation

Data from its first three days in orbit about Mercury have confirmed the initial assessment of the spacecraft team that MESSENGER is in its intended orbit and operating nominally.

"The team is relieved that things have gone so well, but they remain busy as they continue to configure the spacecraft for orbital operations and monitor its health and safety in the new environment," says MESSENGER Project Manager Peter Bedini, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

Today the navigation team delivered an orbit determination that will span MESSENGER's first four weeks in orbit. Starting on March 23, 2011, the team will begin commissioning the science instruments. That day the Energetic Particle and Plasma Spectrometer, Magnetometer, Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer, Mercury Laser Altimeter, Neutron Spectrometer, and X-Ray Spectrometer will be turned on.

On March 29, 2011, the Mercury Dual Imaging System will be powered on and will take its first images. The year-long science observation campaign will begin on April 4, 2011.

"We are about to embark on the first essentially continuous observations of Mercury by an orbiting spacecraft," adds MESSENGER Principal investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "It will be a shared adventure long anticipated and much to be relished."

You can follow MESSENGER's journey in its orbit about Mercury with the newly revised "Where Is MESSENGER?" website feature, which offers simulated views of the spacecraft's current orbit and what Mercury looks like from MESSENGER's current perspective. The Solar System Simulator offers another option for portraying Mercury from the perspective of the MESSENGER spacecraft at any time during the remainder of the mission. Simulated views of nearby Mercury or distant Earth from MESSENGER may be created for a variety of fields of view.

For complete information on MESSENGER's Mercury orbital operations, go online to