- Press Release
- Oct 4, 2022
International Launch Services and Lockheed Martin Launch Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA
An Atlas V rocket sent a NASA spacecraft on its way to Mars this morning, scoring a double success for International Launch Services (ILS) and its parent company, Lockheed Martin.
Liftoff of the 19-story launcher occurred at 7:43 a.m. from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral. After 58 minutes, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) separated from the vehicle, departing Earth orbit for a seven-month journey to the Red Planet.
This was the fifth mission of the year for ILS, a Lockheed Martin joint venture that manages launches aboard the Lockheed Martin-built Atlas V vehicle. It was the first U.S. government mission as well as the first interplanetary mission using the Atlas V, which has had five successful flights for commercial customers. The Atlas family has achieved 77 consecutive successful launches spanning 12 years.
Lockheed Martin also built the MRO spacecraft. MRO will advance exploration for evidence of water on Mars. It also will identify and evaluate potential landing sites for the next several Mars surface missions, leading to search-for-life and sample-return missions, and eventually a human Mars landing.
“We’re pleased that our first mission for NASA on Atlas V is such an exciting and important project,” said Mark Albrecht, president of International Launch Services. “Atlas vehicles have carried 133 other NASA missions, to both Earth orbit and Deep Space. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will provide more new information about Mars than all previous missions to that planet combined.”
The MRO launch recalls another successful Mars mission that recently marked its 40th anniversary. Atlas launched the Mariner missions to Mars in the 1960s, and Mariner 4 provided the first-ever close-up images of another planet in our solar system during its Mars flyby in 1965.
The MRO spacecraft is the largest to be launched to Mars since the 1980s, weighing 4,796 lbs (2,180 kg) at liftoff. After it arrives at Mars, it will orbit for four years in a near-polar orbit at altitudes ranging from 255 km (158 statute mi) to 320 km (199 mi). MRO has an ambitious investigative agenda; it carries six science instruments, and the spacecraft itself will be used for two other science investigations. They are as follows:
- High-resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), to image selected features with the most powerful telescopic camera ever built for use at another planet.
- Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer (CRISM), to survey the planet for water-related minerals.
- Mars Color Imager, to monitor changes in the atmosphere and on the surface through daily global imagery.
- Context Camera, to complement imagery collected by HiRISE and CRISM. It will cover swaths 30 km (18.6 mi) wide.
- Mars Climate Sounder, to study water vapor, dust, ices and temperatures in the atmosphere.
- Shallow Subsurface Radar, to probe up to 1 km (0.6 mi) below the surface to find and map underground layers of ice, rock, and if present, liquid water.
- Gravity Investigation, tracking variations in the orbiter’s movements to map the effects of variations in Mars’ gravity.
- Atmospheric Structure Investigation, using sensitive accelerometers to measure the vertical structure of Mars’ upper atmosphere.
Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin employs about 130,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture and integration of advanced technology systems, products and services.
International Launch Services is the global leader in launch services, offering the industry’s two best launch systems: Atlas and the Russian-built Proton. With a remarkable launch rate of 76 missions since 2000, the Atlas and Proton launch vehicles have consistently demonstrated the reliability and flexibility that have made them preferred choice among satellite operators worldwide.