Status Report

NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Status 9 August 2004

By SpaceRef Editor
August 9, 2004
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NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Status 9 August 2004

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.

SpaceRef staff editor.