Status Report

MESSENGER Mission News February 23, 2004

By SpaceRef Editor
February 24, 2004
Filed under , , ,
MESSENGER Mission News February 23, 2004

Home Stretch

Assembly of the MESSENGER spacecraft started early in 2003 when the
integrated structure and propulsion system was delivered to the
Applied Physics Laboratory from Aerojet. Since then the spacecraft
has gradually taken shape, a process chronicled through the live
MESSENGER Webcam and weekly images. We’ve compressed the nine-month
assembly period at APL into a 14-second movie (taken from one frame
per day) and a 70-second movie (five daily frames) – visit the daily
Webcam movie page and scroll to the bottom boxes, marked "Time Lapse

Highlights from last summer include installation of the sunshade
frame and onboard computer, and an extensive check of the propulsion
system. Most of MESSENGER’s science instruments were installed by
the end of summer – a key milestone since MESSENGER is a scientific
mission above all else.

Through fall the team focused on testing the spacecraft and its
installed components. In late October the team installed the last
electronics box – and that’s when MESSENGER came alive, in that it
could respond to commands from its operators! After installation of
the solar panels you could imagine MESSENGER on its way to Mercury.

While the latest Webcam views haven’t been as exciting, the
situation will change shortly – the spacecraft is set to be removed
from the thermal-vacuum chamber this week, having passed the battery
of hot-and-cold cycling tests that prepare it for the space
environment. Final tweaks to the spacecraft will be performed over
the following two weeks, and then MESSENGER is headed to Kennedy
Space Center/Cape Canaveral for final launch preparations.

MESSENGER Scholarships Available!

High school seniors: Think you have a good idea of what we’ll learn
from the first mission to orbit Mercury? Tell us in a short essay —
and maybe earn a MESSENGER scholarship! Visit the MESSENGER Web site
at for details.

SpaceRef staff editor.