NASA’s MESSENGER Spacecraft Is About To Crash Into Mercury
Mercury is about to get a visitor.
The NASA MESSENGER spacecraft that’s been orbiting Mercury and collecting data for four years is about to run out of fuel. And when it does, it’s going to hit the tiny planet’s surface at about 8,750 miles per hour.
Mission operators in mission control at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, have been carrying out a series of orbit corrections that will delay the spacecraft’s inevitable crash.
The final maneuver will take place next Friday, April 24.
“Following this last maneuver, we will finally declare the spacecraft out of propellant, as this maneuver will deplete nearly all of our remaining helium gas,” Daniel O’Shaughnessy, mission systems engineer at APL, said in a news release. “At that point, the spacecraft will no longer be capable of fighting the downward push of the sun’s gravity.”
The impact is expected to take place out of view on April 30. However, scientists are hoping the fresh impact crater will give them new insight into the planet.
“Having an impact crater, even a small one, whose origin date is precisely known, will be an important benchmark,” Sean Solomon, the mission’s principal investigator and director of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, told Space.com.
The MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) spacecraft was launched in 2004 and entered the planet’s orbit on March 18, 2011.
While the spacecraft’s mission may be ending, scientists are celebrating all they’ve learned about Mercury over the past four years.
“For the first time in history we now have real knowledge about the planet Mercury that shows it to be a fascinating world as part of our diverse solar system,” John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science —> Read More