NASA's New Mars Orbiter Returns Test Images
The first test images of Mars from NASA's newest spacecraft provide a
tantalizing preview of what the orbiter will reveal when its main
science mission begins next fall.
Image right: This view shows a full-resolution portion of the first image of Mars taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera. The camera took this first test image from orbit on March 24, 2006, from an altitude of 2,489 kilometers (1,547 miles). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona + Full image and caption+ Broader view of first image
Three cameras on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter were pointed at
Mars at 8:36 p.m. PST Thursday, while the spacecraft collected 40 minutes
of engineering test data. The cameras are the High Resolution Imaging Science
Experiment, the Context Camera and the Mars Color Imager.
"These high-resolution images of Mars are thrilling, and unique given the
early morning time-of-day. The final orbit of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
will be over Mars in the mid-afternoon, like Mars Global Surveyor and Mars
Odyssey," said Alfred McEwen, University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator
for the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera.
"These images provide the first opportunity to test camera settings and the
spacecraft's ability to point the camera with Mars filling the instruments’
field of view," said Steve Saunders, the mission's program scientist at NASA
Headquarters. "The information learned will be used to prepare for the primary
mission next fall." The main purpose of these images is to enable the camera
team to develop calibration and image-processing procedures such as the precise
corrections needed for color imaging and for high-resolution surface measurements
from stereo pairs of images.
To get desired groundspeeds and lighting conditions for the test images, researchers
programmed the cameras to shoot while the spacecraft was flying about 2,489 kilometers
(1,547 miles) or more above Mars' surface, about nine times the range planned for
the orbiter's primary science mission. Even so, the highest resolution of about 2.5
meters (8 feet) per pixel – an object 8 feet in diameter would appear as a dot --
is comparable to some of the best resolution previously achieved from Mars orbit.
Further processing of the images during the next week or two is expected to combine
narrow swaths into broader views and show color in some portions.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been flying in elongated orbits around Mars
since it entered orbit on March 10. Every 35 hours, it has swung about 44,000
kilometers (27,000 miles) away from the planet then come back within about 425
kilometers (264 miles) of Mars' surface.
Mission operations teams at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif, and
at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, continue preparing for aerobraking. That
process will use about 550 careful dips into the atmosphere during the next seven
months to shrink the orbit to a near-circular shape less than 300 kilometers (200
miles) above the ground.
More than 25 gigabits of imaging data, enough to nearly fill five CD-ROMs, were received
through NASA's Deep Space Network station at Canberra, Australia, and sent to JPL. They
were made available to the camera teams at the University of Arizona Lunar and
Planetary Laboratory and Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, Calif.
Preliminary images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment and additional
information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are available online at: http://www.nasa.gov/mro
Additional processing has begun for release of other images from the
test in coming days.
For information about NASA and agency programs on the Web, visit: http://www.nasa.gov
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages
the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft.
Erica Hupp (202)358-1237
NASA Headquarters, Washington
Guy Webster (818)354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.