Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Tweaks Course, Passes Halfway Point

Nov 21, 2005
Artist's concept of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter en route to Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter successfully fired six engines for about 20 seconds today to adjust its flight path in advance of its March 10, 2006, arrival at the red planet.

Since its Aug. 12 launch, the multipurpose spacecraft has covered about 60 percent of the distance for its trip from Earth to Mars. It will fly about 40-million kilometers (25-million miles) farther before it enters orbit around Mars. It will spend half a year gradually adjusting the shape of its orbit, then begin its science phase. During that phase, it will return more data about Mars than all previous missions combined. The spacecraft has already set a record transmission rate for an interplanetary mission, successfully returning data at 6 megabits per second, fast enough to fill a CD-ROM every 16 minutes.

"Today's maneuver mainly increases the speed to bring us to the target point at just the right moment," said Tung-hanYou, chief of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter navigation team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. The intended nudge in velocity is 75 centimeters per second (less than 2 miles per hour). The spacecraft's speed relative to the sun is about 27 kilometers per second (61,000 miles per hour).

Four opportunities for course adjustments were planned into the schedule before launch. Today's, the second, used only the trajectory-correction engines. Each engine produces about 18 newtons (4 pounds) of thrust. The first course adjustment, on Aug. 27, doubled as a test of the six main engines, which produce nearly eight times as much thrust. Those main engines will have the big job of slowing the spacecraft enough to be captured into orbit when it reaches Mars. The next scheduled trajectory adjustment, on Feb. 1, 2006, and another one 10 days before arrival will be used, if necessary, for fine tuning, said JPL's Allen Halsell, the mission's deputy navigation chief.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission will examine Mars in unprecedented detail from low orbit. Its instrument payload will study water distribution -- including ice, vapor or liquid -- as well as geologic features and minerals. The orbiter will also support future missions to Mars by examining potential landing sites and by providing a high-data-rate relay for communications back to Earth.

Source: NASA

Explore further: The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope: Unlocking the secrets of dark matter and dark energy

Related Stories

Traffic around Mars gets busy

May 06, 2015

NASA has beefed up a process of traffic monitoring, communication and maneuver planning to ensure that Mars orbiters do not approach each other too closely.

Curiosity rover making tracks and observations

Apr 20, 2015

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is continuing science observations while on the move this month. On April 16, the mission passed 10 kilometers (6.214 miles) of total driving since its 2012 landing, including ...

Mars has belts of glaciers consisting of frozen water

Apr 07, 2015

Mars has distinct polar ice caps, but Mars also has belts of glaciers at its central latitudes in both the southern and northern hemispheres. A thick layer of dust covers the glaciers, so they appear as surface ...

Recommended for you

What was here before the solar system?

May 29, 2015

The solar system is old. Like, dial-up-fax-machine-old. 4.6 billion years to be specific. The solar system has nothing on the universe. It's been around for 13.8 billion years, give or take a few hundred ...

What is lunar regolith?

May 29, 2015

When you're walking around on soft ground, do you notice how your feet leave impressions? Perhaps you've tracked some of the looser earth in your yard into the house on occasion? If you were to pick up some ...

Herschel's hunt for filaments in the Milky Way

May 29, 2015

Observations with ESA's Herschel space observatory have revealed that our Galaxy is threaded with filamentary structures on every length scale. From nearby clouds hosting tangles of filaments a few light-years ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.