At 11:03 a.m. Pacific time, NASA's Genesis spacecraft entered perfectly into orbit around the balanced-gravity point Lagrange 1, where it will collect solar wind particles.
Early this morning, engineers sent a final command to the spacecraft to begin operating its hydrazine thrusters for about 268 seconds. This put the spacecraft into its final orbit to begin the particle-gathering phase of the mission. The orbit is at a point where the gravity of Earth and the Sun are balanced. This is called the Lagrange 1 point, or L1.
"The mission operations team did a great job, the orbit insertion went off exactly as planned, and we're in our 30-month science collection orbit," said project manager Chet Sasaki, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., which manages the mission. "The spacecraft is in perfect health and we're ready to move into the next phase of its mission."
At the end of this month, Genesis will open its collector arrays and begin to monitor and collect the solar wind ions flowing from the outer layer of the Sun. The samples of solar wind returned by Genesis will help scientists understand how the solar system evolved.
In September 2004, Genesis will return to Earth and release capsule containing the samples. That capsule will be caught in mid-air by a helicopter. The precious samples will be airlifted to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, where they will be distributed for scientific analysis and safely curated in order to be available for the next century of planetary science studies.
JPL manages the Genesis mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, Colo., and Los Alamos National Laboratory, N. M., operate the mission jointly with JPL. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, the home institute of the principal investigator, Dr. Donald Burnett.
More information on the Genesis mission can be found at http://genesismission.jpl.nasa.gov .
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