Saturday, 19 March 2011

Orbital encounter with Mercury

The thruster maneuver to insert the craft into orbit began at 12:45 AM (00:45 hours) UTC on March 18, 2011. It lasted about 15 minutes, with confirmation that the craft was in Mercury orbit received at 1:10 AM UTC, March 18 (9:10 PM EDT, March 17, U.S.).Mission lead engineer Eric Finnegan indicated that the spacecraft achieved a near perfect orbit. MESSENGER's orbit is highly elliptical, taking it within 200 kilometers (120 mi) of Mercury's surface and then 15,000 kilometres (9,300 mi) away from it every twelve-hours. This orbit was chosen to shield the probe from Mercury's highest temperatures.

The primary mission is expected to begin April 4, orbiting once every twelve hours, for the duration of twelve Gregorian months, an equivalent of two solar days on Mercury. Until scientific observations begin, supervising personnel will be switching on and testing science instruments on the craft to ensure they made the journey without damage

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