As The Rovers Continue Their Remarkable Mission, Another Mars
Mission Is In The Works
Even as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers complete a year of
successful operation on Mars, the next major step in Mars
Exploration is taking shape with preparation of NASA's Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter for launch in just seven months.
The orbiter is undergoing environmental tests in facilities at
Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, CO, where its Atlas V
launch vehicle is also being prepared. Developments are on schedule
for a launch window that begins on Aug. 10.
"The development teams from JPL, Lockheed Martin and the various
institutions providing flight instruments have been working hard
and efficiently as a team. Everything has really come together in
the last couple of months," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Project Manager Jim Graf of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, CA. "The schedule remains tight, even as we continue to
meet our major milestones in preparation for a late summer launch.
And I am really excited about what this spacecraft, this team and
these instruments can do once we get to Mars. The spacecraft
engineering bus and the science instruments will be the most
capable ever sent to another planet. The science gleaned from this
mission will dramatically expand our understanding of Mars."
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter carries six primary instruments:
the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, Context Camera,
Mars Color Imager, Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for
Mars, Mars Climate Sounder and Shallow Radar. All but the imaging
spectrometer are currently onboard. That instrument is the last of
several that had been installed but were removed so the science
teams could replace an electrical component. It will be
re-delivered this month. The orbiter will also carry a
telecommunications relay package and two engineering
"We're moving at a robust pace in the testing phase now and
we're right on track for getting the spacecraft ready to ship to
Florida this spring," said Kevin McNeill, Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. "Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter has been a great spacecraft to work on, in
part because we used an 'open structure' design that allows our
engineers and the science teams to work in and around the
spacecraft during every phase of integration and testing, with even
greater ease and accessibility than we've had on previous missions.
In many respects, the open design has facilitated the integration
and testing of the spacecraft. We'll be in the final phase of
testing during the next four months. Then, it's off to
Located just a few buildings away from where the spacecraft is
undergoing tests at Lockheed Martin's facilities near Denver, the
company also is building the mission's Atlas V launch vehicle. The
Atlas V, designated AV-007, will launch Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
in August from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The Atlas
is undergoing final assembly and testing, and will be shipped to
Cape Canaveral in March to be readied for launch.
Less than two years from now, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
will begin a series of global mapping, regional survey and targeted
observations from a near-polar, low-altitude Mars orbit. These
observations will be unprecedented in terms of the spatial
resolution and coverage achieved by the orbiter's instruments as
they observe the atmosphere and surface of Mars while probing its
shallow subsurface as part of a "follow the water" strategy.
JPL's Dr. Rich Zurek, project scientist for the Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter, said, "The major discoveries by the Mars
Exploration Rovers at the Meridiani and Gusev Crater locales
indicate that water did persist on the surface of the planet for
some time, so a 'follow the water' strategy is appropriate.
However, the rovers have explored just two very small areas of the
planet. A goal of this mission is to find many, many locales where
water was active on the surface for extended periods and thereby
provide a suite of sites for future landers to explore where the
potential for further discovery is high and the risk of
encountering surface hazards is low."