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Goddard Space Flight Center
The Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) is one of the payload science instruments on the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) mission, which launched on August 3, 2004. The altimeter will measure the round-trip time of flight of transmitted laser pulses reflected from the surface of the planet that, in combination with the spacecraft orbit position and pointing data, gives a high-precision measurement of surface topography referenced to Mercury's center of mass. MLA will sample the planet's surface to within a 1-m range error when the line-of-sight range to Mercury is less than 1,200 km under spacecraft nadir pointing or the slant range is less than 800 km.

The altimeter measurements will be used to determine the planet's forced physical librations by tracking the motion of large-scale topographic features as a function of time. MLA's laser pulse energy monitor and the echo pulse energy estimate will provide an active measurement of the surface reflectivity at 1,064 nm. This paper describes the instrument design, prelaunch testing, calibration, and results of postlaunch testing.

ref: "The Mercury Laser Altimeter Instrument for the MESSENGER Mission", Space Science Reviews, 131, 451-480, 2007; DOI: 10.1007/s11214-007-9273-4
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