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[b]MESSENGER Only One Week from Mercury[/b]
MESSENGER's mid-December trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) went so well that the mission's design and navigation teams have decided that a TCM scheduled for January 10 will not be needed.
"Cancellation of this maneuver is a demonstration of the near-perfect execution of TCM-19 just prior to the start of the holiday season," says Mission Systems Engineer Eric Finnegan of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.
On January 9, MESSENGER's Mercury Dual Imaging System cameras will begin gathering pictures of Mercury as the probe zeros in on the planet. "With just one week to go before the flyby, the spacecraft is on target to encounter the planet at an altitude of 202 kilometers," Finnegan says. "All subsystems and instruments are operating nominally and configured for the start of the flyby sequence, except for the Mercury Laser Altimeter and part of the Gamma-Ray Spectrometer, which we'll turn on just before the flyby."
Over the next week, the team will make final flyby preparations and upload the final command sequences for the encounter.
"We are about to visit Mercury for the first time in more than 30 years, and we can't wait," says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "In addition to providing the critical gravity assist that will move MESSENGER along its path toward Mercury orbit insertion in March 2011, this flyby will let us see parts of Mercury never before viewed by spacecraft. We'll be making close-in observations of the composition of Mercury's surface and atmosphere, and we'll be probing deeper into the planet's magnetosphere than we've ever been. We expect many surprises."
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