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Official NASA Communication 93-089

Official NASA Communication 93-089

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Published by: NASAdocuments on Oct 05, 2007
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Paula Cleggett-HaleimHeadquarters, Washington, D.C.May 18, 1993(Phone: 202/358-1547)Franklin O'DonnellJet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.(Phone: 818/354-5011)RELEASE: 93-89MAGELLAN TO TEST AEROBRAKING MANEUVER IN VENUSATMOSPHERENASA's Magellan spacecraft will dip into the atmosphere of Venus beginning May 25 in a first-of-its-kind "aerobraking"maneuver, lowering the spacecraft's orbit to start a newexperiment.The aerobraking technique will use the drag created by Venus'atmosphere to slow the spacecraft and circularize Magellan'sorbit. Currently Magellan is looping around Venus in a highlyelliptical orbit."This aerobraking technique has never been used before on aNASA planetary mission," said Douglas Griffith, Magellan projectmanager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif."Magellan has been highly successful in completing all of itsprimary mission goals," said Alphonso V. Diaz, Deputy AssociateAdministrator for NASA's Office of Space Science. "The new orbitwill enhance the scientific return from what is already one of NASA's most successful space science missions."According to Griffith, aerobraking is the only way to make sucha large change in Magellan's orbit because the spacecraft does nothave enough thruster fuel onboard for the change. "Although
aerobraking creates some risk of losing the spacecraft, thescientific benefits make the risk worthwhile," he said.The benefit of changing the orbit is to make possible bettermeasurements of Venus's gravity field, particularly at latitudesnear the planet's poles, said Dr. R. Stephen Saunders of JPL, theMagellan Project Scientist.- more - - 2 -For the past 8 months, Magellan has been collecting data onVenus' gravity. However, measurements from the current ellipticalorbit are blurred at high latitudes by the height of thespacecraft above the surface -- about 1,300 miles (2,100kilometers) near the north pole and 1,700 miles (2,800 kilometers)near the south pole.Scientists also hope to study Venus's atmosphere using datacollected during the aerobraking experiment itself. And anotherobjective is to gain the engineering experience that may allowfuture missions to use aerobraking to enter planetary orbit or tochange orbit without using large thrusters.Launched in May 1989, Magellan will complete its fourth 243-dayorbital cycle at Venus on May 25. During each of the 8-monthcycles, Magellan orbits from north to south while the planet turnsonce underneath the spacecraft.During earlier cycles, Magellan used its radar to map Venus'ssurface with a resolution as fine as 250 feet (75 meters). Datawas obtained on the elevation, slope, radar reflectivity and radaremissivity over 98 percent of the planet.In the upcoming maneuver, flight controllers hope to lower thespacecraft from a low point near 100 miles (170 kilometers) andhigh point of 5,300 miles (8,500 kilometers). The target orbit is125 by 375 miles (200 by 600 kilometers). This would alter orbittime from 3-1/4 hours to 90 minutes.The aerobraking experiment will start at 1:30 p.m. EDT May 25,when the spacecraft makes the first maneuver. By controlling the

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