HiRISE Camera Will Take First Close-Up Pictures of Mars Sept. 29

Sep 26, 2006
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reached its science orbit over Mars' poles on Sept. 11. The HiRISE camera and other experiments begin doing science in early November. (Artists' illustration: NASA)

The most powerful camera ever to orbit Mars will get its first close look at the Red Planet on Friday. The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera flying aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will relay its first low-altitude images to scientists at The University of Arizona beginning Sept. 29.

"It's exciting because it's the first time we'll see Mars while the spacecraft is orbiting at about 300 kilometers (roughly 190 miles) above the planet's surface," HiRISE principal investigator and UA Professor Alfred S. McEwen said.

The HiRISE camera is the most powerful telescopic camera ever sent to another planet. The camera took its first impressive test images of Mars when it was as far as 2,500 kilometers (roughly 1,600 miles) away from the planet last March, just before MRO began "aerobraking." Aerobraking involved sending the bus-sized spacecraft through Mars' upper atmosphere 426 times between early April and Aug. 30. The technique successfully lowered MRO close to its final science orbit. This maneuver would have required an extra 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds) of fuel if thrusters had been used.

The spacecraft fired six thrusters to reach final science orbit on Sept. 11. The orbit crosses near Mars' north and south poles at altitudes ranging from 250 kilometers (155 miles) to 316 kilometers (196 miles) above the surface.

The HiRISE team has been working at top speed to prepare for the low-orbit images they'll get between Sept. 29 and Oct. 6.

"What makes these next test images exciting for our team is that this time, our effective resolution (sharpness) will be 10 times better," said HiRISE Operations Center (HiROC) manager Eric Eliason. "We're going to see some tremendous detail."

The Sept. 29 - Oct. 6 observing opportunity will be the first time that MRO will use the onboard targeting algorithm and procedures that point the spacecraft at their desired targets. The check-out is designed to test all the observing modes so that there is a smooth start to the primary science phase in November.

"The north polar cap and the Phoenix Mission landing region are our big priority targets for the early science phase, and so we've included them on our targeting check-out," McEwen said.

The NASA Scout-class Phoenix Mission is an international lander mission led by UA's Peter Smith. It is slated for launch in August 2007 for a May 2008 touchdown in Mars' north polar region.

"HiRISE's best chance for photographing candidate Phoenix mission landing sites is in October and November because the sun is getting lower as northern Mars moves into fall," McEwen said. Fogs and hazes will likely degrade viewing by early 2007, he added.

Other imaging targets include about 40 other locations which sample a wide variety of landscapes. The HiRISE team plans to get its first image on Sept. 29 of Ius Chasma, a complex floor that is part of Valles Marineris, a giant canyon system far larger than Arizona's Grand Canyon.

Engineers will turn off the HiRISE camera for a solar conjunction that starts the second week of October. Solar conjunction is when the sun is aligned between Earth and Mars. It will obstruct communications with the spacecraft for about three weeks.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched August 12, 2005, will provide more science data than all previous Mars missions combined. Among its many objectives is a search for evidence that water persisted on the surface of Mars for a long period of time. Other Mars missions have shown that water flowed across the surface in Mars' history. But whether water was ever around long enough to provide a habitat for life remains a mystery.

The HiRISE team uses ISIS-3 software developed and maintained by the U.S.G.S.-Flagstaff for processing its images at HiROC. HiROC is located in the C. P. Sonett Space Sciences Building, 1541 E. University Blvd, on the UA campus.

Source: University of Arizona

Explore further: India tests long-range missile from mobile launcher

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

UA-led HiRISE camera spots long-lost space probe on Mars

Jan 16, 2015

The UK-led Beagle 2 Mars Lander, thought lost on Mars since 2003, has been found partially deployed on the surface of the planet, ending the mystery of what happened to the mission more than a decade ago. ...

We've found Beagle2—now where did Philae go?

Jan 19, 2015

Landing a spacecraft on a celestial body, whether it be the moon, Mars or a comet, is not easy. The European Space Agency found out the hard way in 2003 when its robot Beagle2, which was supposed to send ...

NASA image: Frosty slopes on Mars

Dec 24, 2014

This image of an area on the surface of Mars, approximately 1.5 by 3 kilometers in size, shows frosted gullies on a south-facing slope within a crater.

Shooting "color" in the blackness of space

Dec 03, 2014

It's a question that I've heard, in one form or another, for almost as long as I've been talking with the public about space. And, to be fair, it's not a terrible inquiry. After all, the smartphone in my ...

Recommended for you

Going a long way to do a quick data collection

22 hours ago

Like many a scientist before me, I have spent this week trying to grow a crystal. I wasn't fussy, it didn't have to be a single crystal – a smush of something would have done – just as long as it had ...

How are planets formed?

23 hours ago

How did the Solar System's planets come to be? The leading theory is something known as the "protoplanet hypothesis", which essentially says that very small objects stuck to each other and grew bigger and ...

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.