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Great Communicators

MESSENGER sports two high-gain phased array antennas that will serve as the main communications link for transmitting science data to Earth. Shown in this view is the recently installed aft phase array antenna; the bracket for the forward antenna was installed last week. A temporary cover was also placed over the Launch Vehicle Adapter to protect the newly installed MASCS instrument.

To limit the possibility of failure the antennas are fixed - that is, they "point" electronically across a 90-degree field and have no moving parts. Depending on the spacecraft's orientation, at least one of the two phased array antennas will be pointed at Earth during normal operations. If one antenna fails, data can be stored on the spacecraft's solid-state data recorder (similar to a desktop computer's hard drive) for later transmission through the other antenna. Currently the antenna has a red cover, which protects it while engineers work on the spacecraft around it.

In addition to the two phased array antennas, MESSENGER has two fanbeam antennas and four low-gain antennas for low-data-rate communications near Earth - spacecraft operating commands, for example - or in case the high-gain antennas accidentally point away from Earth.

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Last updated: June 11, 2003


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