PHOENIX, March 18, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- On the evening of March 17, 2011, NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft fired its main engine for 15 minutes to perform a Mercury capture maneuver and became the first spacecraft in history to orbit the innermost planet to the Sun. This event marks the culmination of over six and a half years of interplanetary cruise in an ever-tightening spiral toward Mercury, where MESSENGER performed six gravity-assist planet flybys: one of Earth, two of Venus, and three of Mercury itself. It also marks the beginning of a planned one-year mission to perform unprecedented scientific measurements of the planet Mercury at close range. Throughout the entire time, KinetX, Inc. personnel have performed key navigation functions for MESSENGER in guiding the spacecraft to Mercury, from its launch on the earth, throughout its trajectory including the gravity assisted flybys, and by determining the orbit and predicting its future evolution, first about the Sun and then about the planet Mercury. This support also included plans for a wide range of recovery options in case anything went wrong with the March 17th maneuver.
The KinetX navigation team processes radio metric tracking measurements from NASA's Deep Space Network tracking antennas to perform orbit determination for MESSENGER. In addition, KinetX works with mission and spacecraft engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory to perform various trajectory corrections, including designing, monitoring and reconstructing propulsive maneuvers, planetary encounters or gravity assists, and spacecraft attitude manipulation to utilize solar radiation pressure for flight maneuvering, sometimes described as "solar sailing". KinetX, Inc. is the first commercial entity to provide spacecraft navigation services for a NASA interplanetary mission and is currently also providing similar navigation services for the New Horizons mission to Pluto.
KinetX, Inc. is an aerospace technologies firm of 70 employees providing software, systems, and hardware engineering and development, and is a recognized leader of deep space engineering and operational navigation for the government and commercial aerospace market. The company plays key roles in advanced aerospace programs, including the Iridium® global satellite communications system and several Department of Defense programs for communications and UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) systems. KinetX is headquartered in Tempe, Arizona. Its Space Navigation and Flight Dynamics group, directed by Dr. Bobby Williams, has offices in Simi Valley, California.
SOURCE KinetX, Inc.