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MESSENGER on the Move!

Over the past few weeks, the usual bird's eye view of the MESSENGER assembly area changed frequently as the spacecraft underwent final assembly and testing. On Friday, December 19, the spacecraft was shipped to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center for space-environment testing; this 4-picture series highlights some of MESSENGER's recent movements and critical events leading up to the big move.

A. November 28 2003: MESSENGER is detached from the turnover fixture in preparation for magnetic testing, a move to an adjoining test facility at the Applied Physics Laboratory, and then vibration testing. Note that the solar panels had not yet been attached in this view. The silvery tube snaking up the right side of the spacecraft (seen also in C) carries cool air to keep the battery at its proper working temperature.

B. December 8, 2003: MESSENGER is lifted off the transportation dolly after undergoing shock and separation tests. One of the most worrisome parts of any spacecraft's lifetime is the approximately 8 minutes of launch. After launch, and getting into Earth orbit, the rocket will coast for about half-an-hour and the third-stage rocket will fire for an additional 2 minutes. When the third stage burns out, explosives will release the band that holds MESSENGER to the rocket, and it will be on its way toward the first Venus flyby. In this panel, a test of the explosive separation from the third stage has just been completed; both solar panels are clearly visible, as are the Magnetometer on its boom (at far right) and the two red caps on the Star Tracker Cameras (just to the left of the Magnetometer boom and to the right of the shiny propellant tank).

C. December 10, 2003: After the separation test, MESSENGER also went through a solar panel release test. In this image, the mechanical engineers install the explosives that release the solar panels. (MESSENGER passed this test perfectly.)

D. December 12, 2003: Imagine taking an expensive stereo down to your local paint store, bolting it to the paint shaker - and then turning on the shaker for about 8 minutes. Will it still work? Fortunately, MESSENGER came through a similar test unscathed! In this image, the technicians prepare to install the sunshade for the final time, just before the first vibration test (which simulates the rough ride during launch). The sunshade is made up of several pieces and its installation took several hours.

Click here for a higher resolution version of the above image.


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Last updated: December 19, 2003

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