NASA’s Messenger spacecraft will spend its last hours as a planetary probe Thursday before it crashes into Mercury, the planet it’s been observing for the last four years. It’s a death fit for any spacecraft, while NASA has been publishing some of the best images and data that Messenger has collected from the first planet from the Sun.
The Messenger mission, whose name comes from MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, launched on August 2, 2004. It has been studying Venus and Mercury, but soon the Messenger spacecraft will be abandoning its orbit and crash on the surface of Mercury.
The first spacecraft to visit this planet was the Mariner 10 more than four decades ago. The Mariner 10 was designed to fly past Mercury and Venus and take pictures of their surfaces, but also carry out other experiments and to study the atmosphere and geology. Mariner 10 is no longer active but it is still orbiting the Sun.
The Messenger spacecraft is very light, but it is equipped with a heat resistant ceramic cloth that keeps it cool in the atmosphere of Mercury. The spacecraft was equipped with sixteen monopropellant thrusters, which contributed to its great maneuverability with small, simple orbit corrections. It also had a larger bipropellant which was able to correct larger trajectories, but also to eject the main craft into orbit. With a mass of over 2,400 pounds. From this weight, fifty-five percent are the propellants, as the Messenger originally had important quantities of fuel for maneuvering. The Messenger spacecraft orbited around Venus two times, once around Earth, and Mercury three times. On the third journey, it descended into orbit around the first planet and began scientific experiments.
This spacecraft has been orbiting Mercury since March 2011, taking photographs and measuring the planet surface, giving important information to scientists. The Messenger spacecraft has exhausted its fuel and will soon fall out of orbit. The spacecraft will be falling out of the sky on April 30. Mission Engineer, Dan O’Shaughnessy of NASA explained that the Messenger spacecraft’s impact will not be seen because the area of the crash will be blocked from view.
Messenger will hit Mercury at a speed of over 8,750 miles per hour and will create a crater of around fifty-two feet. Craters are common for Mercury, but the one the Messenger will make will surely be of scientific interest.
Image Source: IBT Times