LANDING ON THE PLANET MERCURY
compiled by Dee Finney
Japan Aims for First
Landing on Mercury
June 14, 2004
The mission entails three probes, two that would orbit and one that would land, to map the topography and study the origins of the closest planet to the sun, said Masahiko Sawabe of Japan's education and science ministry.
"This would be the first landing," Sawabe told The Associated Press. "If successful we will collect a lot of new scientific knowledge"
Mercury has only been visited by one probe - the U.S.-launched Mariner 10, which conducted three fly-bys from 1974 to 1975. NASA is planning to launch another orbiting probe, dubbed Messenger, sometime in 2004.
Russian Soyuz rockets will launch the probes in space shots starting in 2010. The probes would reach Mercury about four years later, with one of them landing on the planet, and the other two orbiting and charting its surface for a year.
To escape the searing heat of Mercury's rocky surface, where temperatures hit 872 degrees in the day, the probe will land on the dark side of the planet during the Mercury night. Temperatures plunge to minus 361 degrees then.
Japan will build one of the orbiting satellites; the Europeans the lander and the other orbiter.
Japan embarked on its first interplanetary exploration with the 1998 launching of its Nozomi, or Hope, probe to Mars. It has been plagued by technical problems and made its final flyby of the Earth just last week. It should reach the red planet by year's end.
For the Mercury venture, Japan would chip in $115 million and Europe would contribute $513 million, Sawabe said.
The goal of the mission is to study the planet's surface and environment and try to unlock the mysteries of how the planet evolved.
Below is the latest news concerning the Messenger Spacecraft as issued
from NASA. Information as to how to subscribe to these news releases via
e-mail is listed at the end of the Status Report.|
National Aeronautics and
John F. Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center, Florida 32899
AC 321 867-2468
For Release: July 27, 2004
George H. Diller
Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
KSC Release No. 57- 04
NASA DIRECT! TO PROVIDE LIVE COVERAGE OF MESSENGER LAUNCH
The NASA Direct! Web site is featuring two webcast events and live countdown coverage for MESSENGER, NASA's upcoming mission to unlock the secrets of Mercury the least explored planet in our Solar System. Programming begins July 29 at 2 p.m. EDT and concludes after launch, currently scheduled for August 2 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The first NASA Direct! webcast, "MESSENGER Science and Technology," begins at 2 p.m. EDT July 29. The program will open with a welcome and introduction by Dr. Orlando Figueroa from NASA's Office of Earth Science. After an introduction by Cheryle Mako, Mission Integration Manager for NASA's Launch Services Program, MESSENGER Project Scientist Dr. Ralph McNutt will lend his expertise describing the science and technology of the exciting mission, and answering the public's questions.
On July 30 at 2 p.m. EDT, NASA Direct! will broadcast "MESSENGER Mission Overview." This informative webcast will begin with a welcome by Kennedy Space Center Director James Kennedy. Host Tiffany Nail will then introduce James Leary, MESSENGER's Mission System Specialist. Leary will answer questions about the spacecraft and explain how it was designed to survive the extreme temperatures of Mercury. Next up will be NASA Launch Manager Chuck Dovale, who will offer an overview of the launch process and readiness of the spacecraft and launch vehicle. Programming will conclude with Delta Launch Weather officer Joel Tumbiolo, who will provide a forecast of projected local weather conditions at the time of launch.
In addition to the NASA Direct! webcasts, the KSC Web Site provides live countdown coverage from its Virtual Launch Control Center, located at http://www.ksc.nasa.gov/elvnew/mission/vlcc.htm . Coverage will feature real-time updates as milestones occur during the countdown, as well as streaming video clips of countdown events. All videos are provided in Real Video format.
MESSENGER WEB COVERAGE SCHEDULE (all times are EDT and subject to change)
L-3 Days – Thursday, July 29 at 2 p.m. EDT
NASA Direct! Program: "MESSENGER Science and Technology"
L-2 Days – Friday, July 30 at 2 p.m. EDT
L-0 Days - Launch Day, Monday, August 2 at 12 a.m. EDT
Although coverage events for this mission do not begin until three
days prior to launch, the Launch Services Program's MESSENGER Web site at http://www.ksc.nasa.gov/elvnew/mission/index.htm
was activated approximately two months before the anticipated launch date.
KSC's Expendable Launch Vehicles site at http://www.ksc.nasa.gov/elvnew/elv.htm
serves as a starting point for coverage of other NASA ELV missions. For
more information about this mission, go to NASA's MESSENGER Web site at
.For further information about the MESSENGER web events, contact
Dennis Armstrong at 321/867-2468.
MESSENGER Mission News
Going, Going, Gone!
NASA Satellite May Find Ice on Hottest Planet|
Fri Jul 30, 2004 01:22 PM ET
By Broward Liston
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - A satellite that heads off to Mercury, the hottest planet in the solar system, on Monday has NASA scientists buzzing because it is expected to journey there and find, of all things, ice.
The MESSENGER (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging) spacecraft takes off three decades after the last time NASA took an up-close look at Mercury, where the temperature at noon is just a shade under 900 degrees F.
The $427-million mission starts with lift-off aboard a Boeing Delta 2 rocket scheduled for 2:16 a.m. EDT on Monday from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the space agency said.
If ice does exist on Mercury, it manages to stay out of the sun, inside the shadowy interior of craters at the poles of the nearly airless planet, where the temperature may not rise above minus -300 degrees F.
Radio telescopes on Earth have detected the signature of ice in those craters, scientists say, though they caution it might also be super-frozen silica or something else.
Equally intriguing is Mercury's composition. The planet is about two-thirds iron and as dense as a planet the size of Earth, although it is much smaller, scientists say. Mercury is slightly larger than the Earth's moon.
"Did Mercury start off more Earth-like, then lose its rocky exterior?" asked Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institute of Washington and principal scientist for the MESSENGER mission. Both long exposure to solar winds or some giant impact might account for that, he said.
"What are the processes that contributed to the inner planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) turning out so differently?" To understand that "we really have to study the most extreme of those outcomes, and that's Mercury," Solomon said.
MESSENGER will be the first satellite to visit Mercury since Mariner 10 a generation ago. It photographed about 45 percent of the planet's surface during three fly-bys in 1974 and 1975.
But Mariner was traveling too quickly to enter orbit around Mercury, where MESSENGER will spend at least a year. .
© Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.
Mercury Attracts Researchers: NASA Launches Space Satellite to Find Unique Information
July 30, 2004
A NASA space satellite set to launch next week is dedicated to finding information about Mercury. It is Dr. Konstanin Kabin's job to predict what the man-made satellite will encounter when it arrives at the closest planet to our sun.
A researcher in the University of Alberta Department of Physics, Kabin studies in the field of numerical magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) modelling, which means he does theoretical thinking, crunches numbers, and then uses supercomputers to create 3D images of Mercury's space environment.
"Mercury is truly unique," he said. "It's relatively small, it has an unusual chemical composition, its orbit is eccentric, and it doesn't have substantial atmosphere or ionosphere. However, it does have a permanent magnetic field, the origin of which has yet to be explained."
Kabin's research colleagues at the University of Michigan used his numerical MHD model when they built a fast-imaging plasma spectrometry instrument (FIPS), which will travel aboard the NASA satellite and send information about Mercury back to Earth.
"They need to have a rough idea of what they are going to measure when they get to Mercury. I hope my model has given them a good idea of this," said Kabin, who co-authored On the space environment of Mercury, a paper published in Advances in Space Research.
All of Kabin's data on Mercury comes from information gathered by Mariner 10, a NASA-built spacecraft that did three fly-bys of Mercury in the mid-'70s. Scheduled to launch Aug. 2 of this year, MESSENGER is a NASA satellite that scientists expect will fly by Mercury three times and then begin orbiting the planet for a year in 2011. In 2007, the European Space Agency is planning to launch a satellite, Bepi Columbo, that will also explore the space environment around Mercury.
"We hope these two missions will provide us with much more accurate measurements of Mercury's composition, magnetic field, and plasma environment--we really have very little data to go on right now," Kabin said.
In particular, he is interested in the fact that Mercury, due to its proximity to the sun, is vulnerable to huge solar flares.
"On rare occasions--maybe once a year--the flares are so powerful that they collapse Mercury's magnetosphere entirely and bombard the planet with solar wind particles," he said. "Earth's magnetic field is about 100 times larger than Mercury's magnetic field, and we're much farther from the sun, so when we study Mercury we should be able to see magnetic field configurations that we could never see on Earth."
Kabin believes that gathering information about Mercury's space environment may provide valuable insights into Earth's space environment and improve our understanding of such things as magnetic storms, power grid fluctuations and northern lights.
He added that, for most scientists, the fundamental motivation in studying Mercury is to get a better idea of its chemical composition, which may provide answers to several critical questions about the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets.
"Essentially, we need more data to explain why Mercury formed close to the sun while gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn formed far away from the sun, with Earth somewhere in between," he said. "This should help us to get a better understanding of the initial composition of the early solar system and how Earth-type planets--where life may exist--may be formed around other stars."
The NASA MESSENGER website: http://www.ksc.nasa.gov/elvnew/messenger/
Source: University of Alberta
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