NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Shows First Image - AeroSpace News NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Shows First Image - AeroSpace News
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NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Shows First Image

According to a statement issued by NASA, the first test images of Mars from NASA's spacecraft provide a tantalizing preview of what the orbiter will reveal when its main science mission begins next fall.

Three cameras on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter were pointed at
Mars at 11:36 p.m. EST, Thursday, March 23, 2006, while the spacecraft collected 40
minutes of engineering test data. The three cameras are the High
Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, Context Camera and Mars Color
Imager.

Three cameras on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter were pointed at
Mars at 11:36 p.m. EST, Thursday, March 23, 2006, while the spacecraft collected 40
minutes of engineering test data. The three cameras are the High
Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, Context Camera and Mars Color
Imager.

"These high resolution images of Mars are thrilling, and unique given
the early morning time-of-day. The final orbit of Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter will be over Mars in the mid-afternoon, like Mars Global
Surveyor and Mars Odyssey," said Alfred McEwen, of the University of
Arizona, Tucson, the principal investigator for the orbiter's High
Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera.

"These images provide the first opportunity to test camera settings
and the spacecraft's ability to point the camera with Mars filling
the instruments' field of view," said Steve Saunders, the mission's
program scientist at NASA Headquarters. "The information learned will
be used to prepare for the primary mission next fall." The main
purpose of these images is to enable the camera team to develop
calibration and image-processing procedures such as the precise
corrections needed for color imaging and for high-resolution surface
measurements from stereo pairs of images.



To get desired groundspeeds and lighting conditions for the images,
researchers programmed the cameras to shoot while the spacecraft was
flying about 1,547 miles or more above Mars, nine times the range
planned for the primary science mission. Even so, the highest
resolution of about 8 feet per pixel - an object 8 feet in diameter
would appear as a dot - is comparable to some of the best resolution
previously achieved from Mars orbit.

Further processing of the images during the next week or two is
expected to combine narrow swaths into broader views and show color
in some portions.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been flying in elongated orbits
around Mars since it entered orbit on March 10, 2006. Every 35 hours, it
has swung from about 27,000 miles away from the planet to within
about 264 miles of Mars' surface.

Mission operations teams at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, California, and at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver,
continue preparing for aerobraking. That process will use about 550
careful dips into the atmosphere during the next seven months to
shrink the orbit to a near-circular shape less than 200 miles above
the ground.

More than 25 gigabits of imaging data, enough to nearly fill five
CD-ROMs, were received through NASA's Deep Space Network station at
Canberra, Australia, and sent to JPL. They were made available to the
camera teams at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary
Laboratory and Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, California.

Additional processing has begun for release of other images from the
test in coming days. Care to learn more about how this image was produced and see the detail of the white box in the image above? There is more on the next page.
{mospagebreak}
The view in the first picture shows the ground covered in the first image taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera (HiRISE) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The spacecraft, launched Aug. 12, 2005, began orbiting Mars on March 10, 2006. HiRISE took this first test image from orbit on March 24, 2006, from an altitude of 2,489 kilometers (1,547 miles). Images taken during the mission's main science phase, beginning in fall 2006, will be from an altitude about one-tenth as far from the ground, gaining even higher resolution.

This image is a mosaic combining 10 side-by-side exposures taken through red filters, presented at greatly reduced scale.

The full product would be 20,000 pixels wide by 9,500 pixels high. The white box at lower right indicates the position of a sample image offered in full resolution.

The quality of this test image is spectacular, with no hint to the eye of any smear or blurring. A high signal-to-noise ratio reveals fine details even in the shadows.

The scene covers an area 49.8 kilometers (30.9 miles) wide and 23.6 kilometers (11.7 miles) high, of landscape typical of Mars' mid-latitude southern highlands. The location is 34 degrees south latitude, 305 degrees east longitude. An old, muted crater lies at the middle of the scene, with sets of channels to the left and right. Superimposed on parts of this terrain is a much younger, layered mantle of debris. The debris mantle is smooth in places but rough in other areas where it may have partially sublimated. This suggests that the debris mantle is (or was) rich in volatiles such as ices of water, carbon dioxide or both. Also superimposed on the landscape are many small sharp-rimmed impact craters and wind-blown dunes. This image illustrates processes that may have involved water both on ancient Mars (channels and eroded craters) and much more recently in Mars' history (volatile-rich debris mantle).

The radiometric and geometric processing of this image is very preliminary. In particular there are mismatches visible at full resolution along the seams between the 10 side-by-side images from separate CCDs (charge-coupled devices, which are electronic optical sensors).

Space Picture Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Astronomy

This view shows a full-resolution portion of the first image of Mars taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera (HiRISE) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The spacecraft, launched Aug. 12, 2005, began orbiting Mars on March 10, 2006. The image is of an area in Mars' mid-latitude southern highlands.

HiRISE took this first test image from orbit on March 24, 2006, from an altitude of 2,489 kilometers (1,547 miles), achieving a resolution of 2.49 meters (98 inches) per pixel, or picture element. The smallest objects of discernable shape are about three pixels across. An image acquired at this latitude during the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's main science phase, beginning in fall 2006, would be taken from an altitude of about 280 kilometers (174 miles) and have a resolution of 28 centimeters (11 inches) per pixel.

This view covers an area about 4.5 by 2.1 kilometers (1.6 by 1.3 miles), a subset of the broader image.

The quality of this test image is spectacular, with no hint to the eye of any smear or blurring. A high signal-to-noise ratio reveals fine details even in the shadows.

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