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Home Stretch
23 Feb 2004
(Source: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory)

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 Movie."

? 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.

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Last Updated: 23 Feb 2004