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NASA approves Mercury orbiter mission
Posted: Fri, Jun 8, 2001, 10:52 AM ET (1452 GMT)
MESSENGER illustration (JHUAPL) NASA gave the green light Thursday to development of the first spacecraft to orbit the planet Mercury. The Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft won final approval by NASA after having been previously chosen as part of the agency's Discovery program of low-cost planetary science missions. Scheduled for launch in 2004, MESSENGER will perform two flybys of Venus and two more of Mercury before going into orbit around the innermost planet in 2009 for a yearlong mission. The spacecraft will feature a suite of instruments to study the planet in detail, including cameras to map its surface, spectrometers to study its composition, and magnetometers to measure its magnetic field. MESSENGER will be only the second spacecraft to visit Mercury: Mariner 10 made three flybys of the planet in the mid-1970s but saw less than half of its surface. MESSENGER is the seventh mission of NASA's Discovery program; previous missions have included Mars Pathfinder, NEAR, and Lunar Prospector. The European Space Agency is planning its own Mercury mission, Bepi Colombo, for launch later this decade.
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