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23-Jul-04 | MESSENGER update

Preparations for launch of NASA’s Mercury orbiter, MESSENGER, are continuing apace. The first stage was hoisted onto the launch mount of Pad 17B on 30 June as scheduled. Nine high-powered GEM-46 booster motors were installed by 6 July, and the second stage was lifted into place two days later. At the Astrotech Space Operations facility, the spacecraft was attached to its third stage motor on 12 July, and then packed inside its protective transportation canister for the trip to the launch site in the early morning of 21 July. All is progressing smoothly toward a first launch attempt on 2 August. MESSENGER has just 13 chances to get into space, as shown in the table below. After 14 August the orbital positions of Earth and Mercury will make the trip nearly impossible; as it is, it will take more than six-and-a-half years to reach the sun’s first planet using multiple gravity assists. Each day’s window is only 12 seconds long, which affords little wiggle room and makes each attempt effectively instantaneous — that is, any unplanned hold in the countdown will likely result in a 24-hour scrub. All times are UTC.

Date Window opens
02 August 06:16:11
03 August 06:15:56
04 August 06:15:22
05 August 06:15:12
06 August 06:14:58
07 August 06:14:47
08 August 06:14:22
09 August 06:14:07
10 August 06:13:54
11 August 06:13:49
12 August 06:13:42
13 August 06:13:29
14 August 06:13:41

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