Friday, November 23, 2007
Messenger Spacecraft Closes on Mercury for January 18 Flyby
The first planet from the sun, Mercury is one of the least explored planets in the solar system but it is set to be explored by the spacecraft MESSENGER with a January 18, 2008 flyby with an array of scientific instruments. The spacecraft will make two additional passes by Mercury and three deep space maneuvers, which will slow the spacecraft down enough to enter Mercury's orbit on March 18, 2011.
Among the goals of the mission are mapping the elemental and mineralogical composition of Mercury's surface; global imaging of the surface at a resolution of hundreds of meters or better; determining the structure of the planet's magnetic field; and measuring its gravitational field structure. At the end of the mission the spacecraft may get much closer to the planet's surface.
Mariner 10 flew past the planet three times but was only able to photograph 45 per cent of the surface and carried out no other scientific investigation.