Tuesday, March 10, 2009

March 10: MRO Attained Martian Orbit

MRO attained Martian orbit on March 10, 2006

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is a multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Mars from orbit.

When MRO entered orbit there were five other spacecraft in orbit of or on Mars: Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Express, Mars Odyssey, and two Mars Exploration Rovers; a then record for most spacecraft operational in Mars vicinity. The $720 million USD spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin under the supervision of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It was launched August 12, 2005, and attained Martian orbit on March 10, 2006. In November 2006, after five months of aerobraking, it entered its final science orbit and began its primary science phase.

MRO is modeled after NASA's highly successful Mars Global Surveyor to conduct surveillance of Mars from orbit. Early specifications of the satellite included a large camera to take high resolution pictures of Mars. In this regard, Jim Garvin, the Mars exploration program scientist for NASA, proclaimed that MRO would be a "microscope in orbit". The satellite was also to include a visible-near-infrared spectrograph.

MRO contains a host of scientific instruments such as cameras, spectrometers, and radar, which are used to analyze the landforms, stratigraphy, minerals, and ice of Mars. It paves the way for future spacecraft by monitoring daily weather and surface conditions, studying potential landing sites, and hosting a new telecommunications system. MRO's telecommunications system will transfer more data back to Earth than all previous interplanetary missions combined, and MRO will serve as a highly capable relay satellite for future missions.

MRO is using its on-board scientific equipment to study the Martian climate, weather, atmosphere, and geology, and to search for signs of water in the polar caps and underground. In addition, MRO is looking for the remains of the previously lost Mars Polar Lander and Beagle 2 spacecraft, and serves as the first step in setting up an internet protocol network for the planets in our solar system. After its main science operations are completed, the probe's extended mission is to be the communication and navigation system for landers and rover probes.

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