Feeds

Tropical storm delays Mercury mission

Take-off put back 24 hours

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

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

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.