Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Status
Even as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers complete a year of
successful operation on Mars, the next major step in Mars
Exploration is taking shape with preparation of NASA's Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter for launch in just seven months.
Image right: This image from early January 2005 shows the spacecraft fitted with five of its six primary science instruments, both solar arrays and its high-gain antenna. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Lockheed Martin. + Larger image.
The orbiter is undergoing environmental tests in facilities at
Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, Colo., where its Atlas
V launch vehicle is also being prepared. Developments are on
schedule for a launch window that begins on Aug. 10.
"The development teams from JPL, Lockheed Martin and the various
institutions providing flight instruments have been working hard
and efficiently as a team. Everything has really come together
in the last couple of months," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Project Manager Jim Graf of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, Calif. "The schedule remains tight, even as we
continue to meet our major milestones in preparation for a late
summer launch. And I am really excited about what this
spacecraft, this team and these instruments can do once we get
to Mars. The spacecraft engineering bus and the science
instruments will be the most capable ever sent to another
planet. The science gleaned from this mission will dramatically
expand our understanding of Mars."
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter carries six primary instruments:
the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, Context Camera,
Mars Color Imager, Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer
for Mars, Mars Climate Sounder and Shallow Radar. All but the
imaging spectrometer are currently onboard. That instrument is
the last of several that had been installed but were removed so
the science teams could replace an electrical component. It will
be re-delivered this month. The orbiter will also carry a
telecommunications relay package and two engineering
"We're moving at a robust pace in the testing phase now and
we're right on track for getting the spacecraft ready to ship to
Florida this spring," said Kevin McNeill, Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. "Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter has been a great spacecraft to work on,
in part because we used an 'open structure' design that allows
our engineers and the science teams to work in and around the
spacecraft during every phase of integration and testing, with
even greater ease and accessibility than we've had on previous
missions. In many respects, the open design has facilitated the
integration and testing of the spacecraft. We'll be in the final
phase of testing during the next four months. Then, it's off to
Located just a few buildings away from where the spacecraft is
undergoing tests at Lockheed Martin's facilities near Denver,
the company also is building the mission's Atlas V launch
vehicle. The Atlas V, designated AV-007, will launch Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter in August from Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station, Florida. The Atlas is undergoing final assembly and
testing, and will be shipped to Cape Canaveral in March to be
readied for launch.
Less than two years from now, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
will begin a series of global mapping, regional survey and
targeted observations from a near-polar, low-altitude Mars
orbit. These observations will be unprecedented in terms of the
spatial resolution and coverage achieved by the orbiter's
instruments as they observe the atmosphere and surface of Mars
while probing its shallow subsurface as part of a "follow the
JPL's Dr. Rich Zurek, project scientist for the Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter, said, "The major discoveries by the Mars
Exploration Rovers at the Meridiani and Gusev Crater locales
indicate that water did persist on the surface of the planet for
some time, so a 'follow the water' strategy is appropriate.
However, the rovers have explored just two very small areas of
the planet. A goal of this mission is to find many, many
locales where water was active on the surface for extended
periods and thereby provide a suite of sites for future landers
to explore where the potential for further discovery is high and
the risk of encountering surface hazards is low."
Additional information about the project is available online at
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission is managed by JPL,
a division of the California Institute of Technology,
Pasadena, for the NASA Science Mission Directorate,
Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems is the prime
contractor for the project.
Guy Webster (818) 354-6278
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Joan Underwood (303) 971-7398
Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, Colo.
Dolores Beasley (202) 358-1753
NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.