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Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter

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The Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter ist Americas answer to the European Mars Express space probe and the technical facts are very impressive. The space probe will arrive in March 2006 on the Red Planet.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was used an Atlas V-401 launch vehicle, the smallest of the Atlas V family (developed by Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services). It is 57 meters tall. This launch vehicle was selected because it provides the performance needed to fly a large spacecraft to Mars.

The total vehicle weight at liftoff was about 333,000 kilograms. Of this total, about 305,000 kg was fuel. To launch the orbiter and set it on its course to Mars, the Atlas V was accelerate the spacecraft to about 11,000 meters per second (25,000 miles per hour).

The Atlas first stage is powered by liquid Oxygen and RP-1 (similar to kerosene) and uses a RD-180 engine supplied by Russia. The first stage operates for about four minutes. The booster provides about 4 million Newtons of thrust. During this phase the spacecraft accelerates to supersonic speeds of about 4500 meters per second (10,000 miles per hour).

After the first stage burn is done the first stage falls back to Earth in the Atlantic Ocean. The spacecraft is mounted on top of the Centaur using an 1194-millimeter-diameter Payload Adapter.

The Centaur upper stage is powered by liquid Oxygen and liquid Hydrogen, which provides the remaining energy necessary to send the spacecraft on its trajectory to Mars.

Instruments

HiRISE - (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment)

This visible camera can reveal small-scale objects in the debris blankets of mysterious gullies and details of geologic structure of canyons, craters, and layered deposits.

CTX - (Context Camera)

This camera will provide wide area views to help provide a context for high-resolution analysis of key spots on Mars provided by HiRISE and CRISM.

MARCI - (Mars Color Imager)

This weather camera will monitor clouds and dust storms.

CRISM - (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars)

This instrument splits visible and near-infrared light of its images into hundreds of "colors" that identify minerals, especially those likely formed in the presence of water, in surface areas on Mars not much bigger than a football field.

MCS - (Mars Climate Sounder)

This atmospheric profiler will detect vertical variations of temperature, dust, and water vapor concentrations in the Martian atmosphere.

SHARAD - (Shallow Radar)

This sounding radar will probe beneath the Martian surface to see if water ice is present at depths greater than one meter.

Electra UHF Communications and Navigation Package

Electra allows the spacecraft to act as a communications relay between the Earth and landed crafts on Mars that may not have sufficient radio power to communicate directly with Earth by themselves.

Optical Navigation Camera

This camera is being tested for improved navigation capability for future missions. If it performs well, similar cameras placed on orbiters of the future would be able to serve as high-precision interplanetary "eyes" to guide incoming spacecraft as they near Mars.

Ka-band Telecommunications Experiment Package

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will test the use of a radio frequency called Ka-band to demonstrate the potential for greater performance in communications using significantly less power.

Gravity Field Investigation Package

By tracking the orbiter in the primary science phase, team members will be able to map the gravity field or Mars to understand the geology of the surface and near-surface and the geophysical processes that produce these land features. For example, analysis could reveal how the planet's mass is redistributed as the Martian polar caps form and dissipate seasonally.

Atmospheric Structure Investigation Accelerometers

Data will be collected from accelerometers. During aerobraking, the accelerometers will help scientists understand the structure of the Martian atmosphere.

Collecting data

When the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter arrives at the Red Planet the spacecraft fires its onboard rockets to slow its speed relative to the planet, and is captured into a long looping orbit. In preparation for its areobraking maneuver.

The primary science phase begins when the orbiter is delivered into its science orbit and its instruments and other systems are checked out, calibrated and ready for the collection of science data. The primary science phase beginning in November, 2006 and ending in November, 2008.

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