August 10, 2004
With a successful launch behind them and a long cruise ahead, MESSENGER mission operators are checking out the systems on the Mercury-bound spacecraft.
"MESSENGER is in great shape and well on its way," says Mission Operations Manager Mark Holdridge, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which built and operates MESSENGER.
Since liftoff on August 3 the operations team
has checked out MESSENGER's communications system, getting strong
signals from its medium- and low-gain antennas through NASA's
Deep Space Network. It will check the guidance and control system
this week before moving on to some of the spacecraft's science
instruments. The team also continues to monitor power and temperature
levels on the spacecraft, now more than 1.5 million miles from
MESSENGER is tentatively scheduled to carry out its
first trajectory correction maneuver on Aug. 24, firing its medium-sized
thrusters to adjust the course that will bring it back to Earth for a gravity-assist
flyby next summer.
"We're going to take as long as we need to make sure every system works the way it's supposed to," Holdridge says. "Now that we've launched, we have time on our side."