| | Published 09 April 2008 KinetX Questioned About Relativity Effects on MESSENGER Trajectory
Scientists from around the world have been questioning the KinetX Navigation Team about relativistic
effects that were modeled in order to estimate the trajectory of the MESSENGER spacecraft during its
historic first encounter with the planet Mercury.
Since MESSENGER passed deep within the Suns gravity well during the Mercury flyby, relativistic
effects due to Einsteins general theory of relativity were included in the KinetX trajectory
calculations. KinetX also applies corrections due to Einsteins special and general theories
of relativity in order to estimate the trajectory from radio metric tracking data supplied by
NASAs Deep Space Network. KinetX uses the MIRAGE software set developed at NASA/JPL that
includes the formulation for these effects developed by Theodore D. Moyer. Properly including
these effects were part of the overall precision trajectory estimation and planning effort that the
KinetX team used to deliver the MESSENGER spacecraft to a very precise planetary flyby.
KinetX Flight Director and then MESSENGER Navigation Team Chief, Anthony Taylor, answered specific
questions about the KinetX teams use of relativity corrections sent in by Emily Stewart Lakdawalla
of the Planetary Society which can be seen on the
Planetary Society blog.
Mr. Taylor was also contacted by Dr. Stefan Scherer of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe Institute for
Theoretical Physics at Max-von-Laue-Strasse University, Frankfurt, Germany. Dr. Scherer produced a
blog speculating on the effect General Relativity might have on the MESSENGER flyby
before he contacted Mr. Taylor. The resulting dialog between Dr. Scherer and Mr. Taylor clarified
what was done by the KinetX Navigation Team to account for relativity at Mercury flyby 1.
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