Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
With one very busy year remaining before launch, the team preparing
NASA's next mission to Mars has begun integrating and testing
the spacecraft's versatile payload.
Possible launch dates from Cape Canaveral, Fla., for NASA's Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter begin Aug. 10, 2005. The spacecraft will
reach Mars seven months later to study the surface, subsurface
and atmosphere with the most powerful instrument suite ever flown
to the red planet.
"Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is a quantum leap in our spacecraft
and instrument capabilities at Mars," said James Graf, the mission's
project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,
Calif. "Weighing 2,180 kilograms [4,806 pounds] at launch, the
spacecraft will be the largest ever to orbit Mars. The data rate
from the orbiter at Mars back to Earth will be three times faster
than a high-speed residential telephone line. This rate will enable
us to return a tremendous amount of data and dramatically increase
our understanding of this mysterious planet."
JPL's Dr. Richard Zurek, project scientist for Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter, said, "This capability is needed to achieve the higher-resolution
imaging, spectral mapping, atmospheric profiling and subsurface
probing that will allow us to follow up on the exciting discoveries
of the current Mars missions."
Workers at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, have been building
the orbiter for more than a year and have reached the final assembly
stage. Flight software is 96 percent complete. Assembly of the
launch vehicle, an Atlas V, has begun at the same facility where
the orbiter is being completed and tested. This will be the first
interplanetary mission hitched to an Atlas since 1973. The Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter team now numbers about 175 people at Lockheed
Martin and 110 at JPL.
Kevin McNeill, Lockheed Martin's program manager for the orbiter,
said, "Our team has completed integration and testing of a majority
of the spacecraft's subsystems. In the next few months, we'll
integrate and test the science instruments on the orbiter, followed
by environmental testing through early next year. We look forward
to getting to the Cape next spring and integrating with the Atlas
V launch vehicle. We're all very excited about getting to Mars
and returning data for the science teams to evaluate."
The spacecraft's six science instruments are in the final stages
of assembly, testing and calibration at several locations for
delivery in coming weeks. The payload also includes a relay telecommunications
package called Electra and two technology demonstrations to support
planning of future Mars missions. "Electra was integrated with
the spacecraft and tested in July," Graf said. "The next payload
elements to be integrated will be the Mars climate sounder and
the compact reconnaissance imaging spectrometer for Mars." The
climate sounder, from JPL, will quantify the martian atmosphere's
vertical variations in water vapor, dust and temperature; the
imaging spectrometer, from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
of Laurel, Md., will scan the surface to look for water-related
minerals at unprecedented scales, extending discoveries made by
NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers.
The largest telescopic camera ever sent into orbit around another
planet, called the high resolution imaging science experiment,
will reveal Mars surface features as small as a kitchen table.
Ball Aerospace, Boulder, Colo., is building it for the University
of Arizona, Tucson. The orbiter will also carry three other cameras.
Two come from Malin Space Sciences, San Diego: the context camera
for wide-swath, high-resolution pictures, and the Mars multi-color
imager with its fish-eye lens for tracking changes in weather
and variations in atmospheric ozone. An optical navigation camera
from JPL will use positions of Mars' two moons to demonstrate
precision navigation for future missions.
The Italian Space Agency is providing the orbiter's shallow radar
sounding instrument, designed to probe below the surface to discover
evidence of underground layers of ice, rock and, perhaps, melted
Another technology demonstration from JPL will allow comparison
of a higher-frequency, more-efficient radio band with the band
commonly used for interplanetary communications. This may allow
future missions to return more data with the same expended power.
NASA’s chief scientist for Mars, Dr. Jim Garvin, added,
"We build our science strategy for Mars around the next-generation
reconnaissance this spacecraft is to provide, with its revolutionary
remote sensing payload, and we are proud of the impressive progress
to date by our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter team. Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter will tell us where we must send our next wave of robotic
explorers, including the Mars Science Laboratory, as well as paving
the way for human exploration."
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission is managed by JPL, a division
of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, for the NASA
Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space
Systems is the prime contractor for the project.