Mars under the spotlight again

March 13, 2006
Mars

Relieved UK scientists are celebrating the news that NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) appears to have smoothly entered Mars orbit on Friday night (March 10th). Entering orbit is one of the most critical times for a space mission and Friday night’s manoeuvre managed to boost the tension for all as it took place on the far side of the Red Planet – so no news of the progress could be received on Earth during the critical phase.

UK scientists, from Oxford, Cardiff and Reading Universities are involved in the Mars Climate Sounder (MCS) instrument – essentially a weather station for Mars. It will profile the atmosphere of Mars detecting vertical variation in temperature, dust and water vapour concentration. Two previous versions of this instrument were lost with the ill-fated Mars Observer and Mars Climate Orbiter missions.

Professor Fred Taylor of Oxford University is delighted to have this nail-biting milestone out of the way. He says “Mars approach and orbit insertion is the most risky part of the mission. That is when we lost the last two spacecraft that were carrying our Climate Sounder instrument to Mars, in 1991 and 1999. Successfully achieving orbit this time means that we will be able to start taking some preliminary observations of the Martian atmosphere as early as 20th March.”

He adds “However, MRO will still be in a very elongated orbit then, and will not achieve the circular orbit from which we get the best observations for another six months. Changing the orbit involves the spacecraft dipping into the upper atmosphere of Mars at its closest approach each orbit, using the drag to reduce its speed a little at a time. This 'aerobraking' is also a risky manoeuvre, but not as heart-stopping as arrival at Mars.”

The main aim of the MRO mission is to seek out the history of water on Mars. This will be accomplished by a suite of six science instruments, 3 engineering experiments and 2 science facility experiments. They will zoom in for extreme close up images of the Martian surface, analyse minerals, look for subsurface water, trace how much dust and water are distributed in the atmosphere and monitor the daily global weather.

Source: PPARC

Explore further: Image: ESA's ExoMars rover and Russia's stationary surface science platform

Related Stories

NASA selects CubeSat, SmallSat mission concept studies

March 23, 2017

NASA has selected ten studies under the Planetary Science Deep Space SmallSat Studies (PSDS3) program, to develop mission concepts using small satellites to investigate Venus, Earth's moon, asteroids, Mars and the outer planets.

Astronomers study a rare multi-eclipsing quintet of stars

March 23, 2017

(Phys.org)—A team of astronomers led by Krzysztof Hełminiak of the Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Center in Toruń, Poland, has investigated an interesting bright quintuple stellar system in which each of the stars is ...

NASA Mars orbiter tracks back-to-back regional storms

March 10, 2017

A regional dust storm currently swelling on Mars follows unusually closely on one that blossomed less than two weeks earlier and is now dissipating, as seen in daily global weather monitoring by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance ...

Recommended for you

Physicists show ion pairs perform enhanced 'spooky action'

March 28, 2017

Adding to strong recent demonstrations that particles of light perform what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance," in which two separated objects can have a connection that exceeds everyday experience, physicists ...

Stop eating! You are full

March 28, 2017

Researchers have identified a molecule sent by fat cells to the fly brain that senses when they have had enough food and inhibits feeding, according to a study publishing March 28 in the open access journal PLOS Biology by ...

0 comments

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.