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Messenger Exits Longest Solar Conjunction Period of Mission

by Staff Writers
Laurel MD (SPX) Dec 07, 2007
On Friday, November 30, the Messenger team resumed daily contact with its Mercury-bound spacecraft. Engineers had suspended their contact schedule on November 13 as the Sun-Earth-Probe angle passed below 1 degree - entering a period known as solar conjunction, when the spacecraft's trajectory moved it to the opposite side of the Sun from Earth and out of radio contact with NASA's Deep Space Network for several weeks.

"Almost immediately after the start of this first tracking period, we were able to get a radio fix on and begin receiving telemetry from the spacecraft," says Messenger Mission Systems Engineer Eric Finnegan.

"A review of these early data indicates that the spacecraft is healthy and has operated nominally during the previous two weeks of communications outage."

After verifying the condition of the spacecraft, the operations team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., began sending commands to the spacecraft.

"Intermittent contact with the spacecraft may still occur because of the potential for increased solar activity," Finnegan says, "but the communication link reliability will continue to increase in the coming days."

The spacecraft will officially exit the longest solar conjunction period of the mission on December 12 when the Sun-Earth-probe angle increases above 3 degrees.

"This positive contact with the spacecraft places one more critical event for the Messenger team in the past," Mission Operations Manager Andy Calloway says.

"We are now planning for a trajectory correction maneuver in late December that will keep the spacecraft on target for the first Mercury flyby of the mission and the first encounter with the planet by any spacecraft in nearly 33 years."

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MESSENGER Completes Fifty Percent Of Cruise Phase
Laurel MD (SPX) Nov 26, 2007
On November 25, MESSENGER will have reached the halfway point in its 6.6-year cruise phase, as measured by travel time. In late January 2008 - shortly after its first flyby of Mercury - the probe's cruise speed (relative to the Sun) will reach its highest since launch: 62.5 kilometers per second (or 140,000 miles per hour).

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