Friday, March 10, 2006

A great day for Mars exploration.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter successfully went into orbit around Mars after about a 7 month flight to the red planet. This orbit joins 3 other active orbiters at Mars along with two active rovers on the surface in the hunt for water and the history of water on Mars. The high resolution imaging camera, HiRise will be run at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and will produce the highest resolution images ever taken of any other planetary body with a resolution of about 15cm! HiRise will improve the resolution over Mars Global Surveyor about as far as MGS improved over Viking. Though the coverage of HiRise will be quite local and target specific rather than global, the data rates from the spacecraft will exceed all other spacecraft combined! MRO went into a very elliptical initial orbit after burning its 6 small thrusters for 27 minutes during Mars Orbit Insertion earlier today. It will spend the next 6 months using aerobraking to slowly circularize its orbit - every time it reaches periapse - the low point of its orbit, it will dip very slightly into the Martian atmosphere, slowing the spacecraft and lowering its apoapse a little. Eventually it will be in about a 180 mile circular orbit from which it can start doing its imaging science and then we'll start seeing some very spectacular closeup images of Mars.


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