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Undercover Operations

Watch the Webcam these days and things might look a bit slow around MESSENGER -- but the spacecraft's insides are hard at work! Most of the activity is taking place in the MESSENGER Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, where for the next several weeks the team is running autonomy tests and mission simulations on the actual spacecraft. The autonomy tests verify MESSENGER's ability to operate on its own when not in contact with Earth. The mission simulations put MESSENGER (and its operators) through key activities such as the launch sequence, orbit maneuvers, even responses to potential anomalies. The APL team in Maryland stays connected to MESSENGER in Florida through a NASA computer network.

In this week's image, two MESSENGER team members inspect wiring under the spacecraft's thermal blankets on April 9. Most of the "hands on" activity has slowed down during the simulations and autonomy tests, but will pick up later this spring when engineers re-install the sunshade, thermal blankets and solar panels; load fuel into MESSENGER's tanks and conduct spin-balance tests; and attach the spacecraft to the upper stage of its Delta II launch vehicle.

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Last updated: April 23, 2004


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