A NASA Discovery mission to conduct the first orbital study
of the innermost planet
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The Laser Lines Up

In this scene, engineers get ready to check the fit of the Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) on the spacecraft in preparation for its scheduled installation next week. Provided by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, MLA will use a laser pulse to measure the distance from MESSENGER to Mercury's surface. Not only will the MLA characterize Mercury's surface topography but it will also allow scientists to better understand the planet's interior structure. And, by detecting small distortions in Mercury's overall shape, MLA measurements can help the team answer one of the mission's key science questions: Does Mercury have a molten core?

The four large cones will receive the laser pulse after it has reflected off Mercury's surface, nestled between the receivers is the transmitter. The MLA weighs 7.3 kilograms (16 pounds) and uses 16 watts of power.

MLA will join three other instruments already installed on MESSENGER: the X-Ray Spectrometer; Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer; and the Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer segment of the Energetic Particle and Plasma Spectrometer.

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Last updated: July 18, 2003

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