NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter At Mars
According to a statement issued by Lockheed, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, was successfully placed in orbit around Mars on March 10, 2006. The spacecraft's flight and operations in space are controlled by teams at JPL in Pasadena, California, and Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company operations near Denver, Colorado. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter joins the 2001 Mars Odyssey and the Mars Global Surveyor in orbit around the red planet.
On March 7, final commands were sent to the spacecraft to ready it for orbit insertion. Just before 1:25 p.m. PT on March 10, those commands fired the six main engines for a 27 minute burn that slowed the spacecraft, allowed it to be captured by Mars' gravity, and placed it into an elliptical polar orbit around Mars that is initial 35.5 hours long.
During the next six months, the flight team will put MRO through a series of aerobraking maneuvers - dipping the spacecraft into the upper Martian atmosphere - to slow it even further and tighten its highly elliptical orbit to a final circular orbit. MRO is scheduled to begin its primary mission in November 2006. Using its suite of six instruments, it will perform scientific reconnaissance of the planet's surface, delivering data five times greater than all previous Mars missions, providing global maps of the planet and its climate, looking for future landing sites, and enabling communications support and data relay for missions planned for 2007 and beyond.
"The missions currently at Mars have each advanced what we know about the presence and history of water on Mars, and one of the main goals for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is to decipher when water was on the surface and where it is now," said JPL's Dr. Richard Zurek, project scientist for the mission. "Water is essential for life, so that will help focus future studies of whether Mars has ever supported life."
The orbiter can radio data to Earth at up to 10 times the rate of any previous Mars mission. Besides sending home the pictures and other information from its own investigations, it will relay data from surface missions, including NASA's Phoenix Mars Scout scheduled for launch in 2007 and Mars Science Laboratory in development for 2009.