NASA's twin Mars rovers, nearing the third anniversary of their landings, are getting smarter as they get older. The unexpected longevity of Spirit and Opportunity is giving the space agency a chance to field-test on Mars some new capabilities useful both to these missions and future rovers.
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has a new project manager. Jim Erickson, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., had been deputy project manager for the orbiter since early 2006. JPL's Jim Graf, who led the Mars robotic mission from development through flight to the red planet, is moving on to new challenges. He has joined JPL's Earth Science and Technology Directorate as deputy director.
Layers on Mars are yielding history lessons revealed by instruments flying overhead and rolling across the surface. Some of the first radar and imaging results from NASA's newest Mars spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, show details in layers of ice-rich deposits near the poles. Observed variations in the layers' thickness and composition will yield information about recent climate cycles on the red planet.
Studies of recent Martian climate change are on the rise with new data from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Much as scientists study Earth's ice ages through layered deposits, the science team is seeking clues to Mars' past by studying ice-rich layers at the Martian poles. The mineral gypsum and clay minerals found at the poles will be important, as they are indicators of wet conditions on Mars in the past. Radar penetrations that reveal thickness and fine-scale layering will also help define climate variations and environmental conditions on Mars over time.
New images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show three additional NASA spacecraft that have landed on Mars: the Spirit rover active on the surface since January 2004 and the two Viking landers that successfully reached the surface in 1976.
NASA's latest orbiter to visit Mars achieved another mark of success this week. The mineral-mapping instrument on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has successfully removed its lens cover and is ready to start observing the planet. This comes on the heels of a successful test of the orbiter's subsurface radar antenna. This period of powering on instruments and completing calibrations leads up to the orbiter's primary science phase, beginning in November 2006.
Scientists and engineers waited anxiously for word that SHARAD, the Shallow Subsurface Radar antenna aboard Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, was extended and functioning properly. Cheers and applause filled the mission support area when tests confirmed that the antenna is working and ready to begin scoping out the subsurface of Mars.
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter fired its six intermediate-size thrusters for 210 seconds Tuesday in a maneuver to make the shape of its orbit closer to the planned geometry for the mission's main science phase, beginning in November.
Nearly six months after it entered orbit, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has concluded its aerobraking phase. The spacecraft had been dipping in and out of the red planet's atmosphere to adjust its orbit. On August 30, 2006, during its 445th orbit, the spacecraft fired its intermediate thrusters to raise the low point of its orbit and stop dipping into the atmosphere.
NASA's newest spacecraft at Mars has already cut the size and duration of each orbit by more than half, just 11 weeks into a 23-week process of shrinking its orbit. By other indicators, the lion's share of the job lies ahead.
NASA's latest orbiter to visit the Red Planet is well into its main phase of aerobraking. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has cut about 10 hours off of its initial orbit by strategically dipping in and out of Mars' thin atmosphere.
Sleep is secondary to Dr. Alfred McEwen and his HiRISE team. They are eager to see what their instrument is seeing from orbit around Mars. Scientists and engineers at the University of Arizona are gearing up to see the first test images of Mars taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera.
Streams of data poured in overnight as excited engineers and scientists waited to see what the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera was seeing from orbit around Mars. The results were worth waiting up for! Share in the excitement of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's first images from orbit.
With a crucially timed firing of its main engines today, NASA's new mission to Mars successfully put itself into orbit around the red planet. The spacecraft, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, will provide more science data than all previous Mars missions combined.
Cheers of joy filled the mission control area at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory today as its latest mission to Mars met a critical mission milestone: Mars orbit insertion. At 2:16 p.m. (PST), ground controllers were informed by the Deep Space Network that they had locked up on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's signal as the spacecraft reappeared above Mars. This communication was a tremendous relief to the mission team as they had to wait nearly half an hour for their spacecraft to emerge from behind the red planet and back into range so that radio signals could again be transmitted. A few minutes later, it was confirmed that the orbiter was captured into the intended initial orbit.
As it nears Mars on March 10, a NASA spacecraft designed to examine the red planet in unprecedented detail from low orbit will point its main thrusters forward, then fire them to slow itself enough for Mars' gravity to grab it into orbit.
This diagram illustrates the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's journey from launch to Mars. The inner circle (blue) represents Earth in orbit around the Sun (center). The green and yellow line represents the spacecraft on its way to Mars. The outer (red) circle represents Mars in orbit around the Sun. Four major stages of the mission are labeled: launch, cruise, approach and Mars orbit insertion. Also labeled are the opportunities for trajectory correction maneuvers, or chances to tweak the orbiter's path. The third trajectory correction maneuver was deemed unnecessary due to the precision of the spacecraft's current path.