We started a long journey exploring the space probes which were/are on a mission to explore the various celestial bodies. In our previous article, we were discussing about space probes to Mercury, starting with Mariner 10 (covered in three parts). Today we will start with another exciting probe: Messenger.
After Mariner 10’s visits to Mercury, the space science and engineering communities yearned for a longer and more detailed look at the innermost planet – but that closer look, ideally from orbit, presented formidable technical obstacles. A Mercury orbiter would have to be tough, with enough protection to withstand searing sunlight and roasting heat bouncing back from the planet below.
The spacecraft would need to be lightweight since most of its mass would be fuel to fire its rockets to slow the spacecraft down enough to be captured by Mercury’s gravity. And the probe would have to be sufficiently compact to be launched on a conventional and cost-effective rocket.
Designed and built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory – with contributions from research institutions and companies around the world – the MESSENGER spacecraft tackled each of these challenges and was the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury. The name is a backronym for “MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging“, and a reference to the messenger god Mercury from Roman mythology. It was launched on August 3, 2004.
The MESSENGER mission was designed to study the characteristics and environment of Mercury from orbit. Specifically, the scientific objectives of the mission were:
- to characterize the chemical composition of Mercury’s surface.
- to study the planet’s geologic history.
- to elucidate the nature of the global magnetic field (magnetosphere).
- to determine the size and state of the core.
- to determine the volatile inventory at the poles.
- to study the nature of Mercury’s exosphere.
This was just an introduction to the MESSENGER space probe. In our upcoming articles, we will cover in-depth and discuss the mission profile, scientific instruments onboard, and many more. Till then take care!!
- Image Credits: NASA