Feeds

Tropical storm delays Mercury mission

Take-off put back 24 hours

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

The launch of the Mercury Messenger probe, the first mission to study Mercury in more than 30 years, has been put back by 24 hours, mission controllers said today. The spacecraft was due to launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre at 6:16 this morning, but the launch was scrubbed when Tropical Storm Alex got a little close for comfort.

A statement on the Messenger mission website said that at present, the forecast for tomorrow’s launch time is similar to today’s weather. “However, if Tropical Storm Alex moves farther away, the forecast would likely improve,” it says.

Alex is the first named storm of the year, was upgraded from a depression on Sunday, and is expected to make landfall within the next 24 hours. It is not expected to hit Florida, but hurricane warnings have been issued for the coasts of both North and South Carolina.

The Messenger mission gets its name from “MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, Geochemistry, and Ranging,” - a list of its main mission objectives. Specifically, scientists hope to discover why the planet is so dense, and how its magnetic field is generated.

Mercury is the only planet, other than Earth, that has a global magnetic field. On Earth, scientists think the magnetic field is generated by our planet’s spinning molten iron core. However, Mercury is much smaller and its core should have frozen solid long ago. The question is: how can a solid iron core generate a global magnetic field? The answers could shed light on how our own field works. The 1.2 tonne spacecraft will escape our gravity well aboard at Boeing Delta 2 rocket. Its seven-year, 7.9bn km flight to Mercury will see it swing past Earth again in 2005 for a gravity boost, before heading towards the inner solar system. It will make two passes of Venus - in 2006 and 2007 - which will aim it closer to a Mercury Orbit.

The craft will be wrapped in heat resistant ceramic cloth, to help it withstand surface temperatures of up to 450C. It carries seven scientific instruments which it will use to probe the mysterious planet. The scientific payload includes stereo imaging equipment, a laser altimeter, a magnetometers, and an X-ray Spectrometer.

One of its primary tasks is to map the planet’s surface, completing a task begun by Mariner 10 in 1973: Mariner 10 was able to photograph just 45 per cent of the planet’s surface during three flybys.

Messenger also carries equipment capable of determining the composition of the atmosphere and surface, and the Radio Science package will detect variations in the thickness of the planet's crust.

Tomorrow's launch is set for 06:15, GMT. The mission has a 13-day launch window, so even if Tropical Storm Alex proves troublesome for a couple of days, the craft should still be able to get off the ground before the window expires. ®

Related stories

Asteroid named after Dill Faulkes
Cassini eyeballs Saturnian lightning storms
Mission to map the Aurorae launches 26 July

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
Cutting cancer rates: Data, models and a happy ending?
How surgery might be making cancer prognoses worse
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Scale data protection with your virtual environment
To scale at the rate of virtualization growth, data protection solutions need to adopt new capabilities and simplify current features.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?