MESSENGER's Venus flyby successful
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla
24-10-2006 14:51 CDT
A press release just hit my mailbox stating that MESSENGER has been heard from since its Venus flyby, so there are now only four flybys to go before MESSENGER will be in orbit at Mercury! The press release stated that MESSENGER flew within 2,990 kilometers of Venus at 08:34 UTC (01:34 PDT) today, October 24. Eighteen minutes later, the spacecraft disappeared behind Venus, which is always a scary moment for mission controllers. There's no reason to expect any problem to happen just because you're out of contact with your spacecraft, but still you're biting your nails until contact is reestablished. That happened at 14:15 UTC (07:15 PDT), the release says. However, because Venus is in solar conjunction, it's pretty difficult to get much information radioed back from the spacecraft, and they won't reestablish regular radio communications until "late November."
The release was accompanied by a couple of images and movies. Here's one of Venus that was captured three weeks ago. It doesn't tell us anything about Venus except that MESSENGER was there, which is cool enough for me!
Don't take this little blob as an indicator of what MESSENGER's cameras can do. For that, you may want to go back for a reminder of the awesome Earth rotation movie MESSENGER grabbed as it receded from its Earth flyby on August 2, 2005.
They've also added a couple of movies to their website. An interesting one shows the relative positions of MESSENGER and Venus Express during the flyby. There's also a line showing the direction of a line-of-sight link between the two spacecraft, but the MESSENGER website says that no communication was possible. The tick marks on the two paths are 30 minutes apart. You can see how much faster the flyby craft is moving relative to the orbiting craft. (It's also interesting to see how the orbiter's speed varies throughout its highly elliptical orbit.) You can download the movie at the MESSENGER site.