2001 MARS ODYSSEY
NASA Langley helps spacecraft surf Martian atmosphere
The 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft fired its main engines this
week and successfully put itself into orbit around the red planet.
NASA flight controllers report that the spacecraft is in excellent
health and is in a looping orbit around Mars.
Researchers at NASAs Langley Research Center are ready for
the next critical phase in the Mars Odyssey mission. Starting on
Friday, October 26, and in the weeks and months ahead,
Langleys role will be to help the spacecraft literally surf
the waves of the Martian atmosphere in a process called
aerobraking, which will reduce the long elliptical orbit into a
shorter, 2-hour circular orbit of approximately 400 kilometers
(about 250 miles) altitude. This will place the spacecraft in a
lower orbit where it will make its scientific observations.
The Langley Odyssey team will support the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory by monitoring the aerodynamics and the heating of the
spacecraft as it passes through the thin atmosphere of Mars. One of
Langleys jobs will be to figure out how deep the orbiter
should go on each pass. If the passes are too deep, the solar
panels could burn up; if the passes are too shallow, the mission
could end up in a useless orbit.
"These are very challenging and exciting missions," said Dick
Powell, Langley technical lead for Mars Odyssey. "There are many
uncertainties about Mars. The atmosphere is primarily carbon
dioxide as opposed to Earths atmosphere that is primarily
nitrogen. So we have to figure out a way to modify all our
computational tools to apply to these vehicles. Also, there is no
infrastructure, no global positioning satellites, no meteorological
satellites, so we have to allow a great deal of margin in these
spacecraft to handle the unknown."
Dick Powell leads a group of 18 Langley and George Washington
University researchers who will work around the clock to monitor
the aerobraking phase of the Odyssey mission.
Mars Odyssey is designed to detect water and shallow buried ice.
The orbiter will also collect data on the radiation environment to
help assess potential risks to any future human missions.
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