MRO: Fast-Talking NASA Spacecraft Starts Final Approach to Mars

PASADENA, CALIF. 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011

Guy Webster (818)354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Dwayne Brown (202)358-1726
Merrilee Fellows (818)393-0754
NASA Headquarters, Washington

News Release: 2006-032 March 8, 2006

Fast-Talking NASA Spacecraft Starts Final Approach to Mars

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has begun its final approach
to the red planet after activating a sequence of commands
designed to get the spacecraft successfully into orbit.

The sequence began Tuesday and will culminate with firing the
craft’s main thrusters for about 27 minutes on Friday – a foot
on the brakes to reduce velocity by about 20 percent as the
spacecraft swings around Mars at about 5,000 meters per second
(about 11,000 miles per hour). Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and Lockheed Martin
Space Systems, Denver, are monitoring the events closely.

“We have been preparing for years for the critical events the
spacecraft must execute on Friday,” said JPL’s Jim Graf, project
manager. “By all indications, we’re in great shape to succeed,
but Mars has taught us never to get overconfident. Two of the
last four orbiters NASA sent to Mars did not survive final

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will build upon discoveries by five
successful robots currently active at Mars: NASA rovers Spirit
and Opportunity, NASA orbiters Mars Global Surveyor and Mars
Odyssey, and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter.
It will examine Mars’ surface, atmosphere and underground layers
in great detail from a low orbit. It will aid future missions by
scouting possible landing sites and relaying communications.
It will send home up to 10 times as much data per minute as any
previous Mars mission.

First, it must get into orbit. The necessary thruster burn will
begin shortly after 1:24 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday. Engineers
designed the burn to slow the spacecraft just enough for Mars’
gravity to capture it into a very elongated elliptical orbit. A
half-year period of more than 500 carefully calculated dips into
Mars’ atmosphere – a process called aerobraking – will use
friction with the atmosphere to gradually shrink the orbit to
the size and nearly-circular shape chosen for most advantageous
use of the six onboard science instruments.

“Our primary science phase won’t begin until November, but we’ll
actually be studying the changeable structure of Mars’
atmosphere by sensing the density of the atmosphere at
different altitudes each time we fly through it during
aerobraking,” said JPL’s Dr. Richard Zurek, project scientist
for the mission.

Additional information about Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is
available online at:

The 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, Denver,
is the prime contractor for the project and built the


Se domani tutto va bene avremo ben quattro sonde esplorative in orbita e due rover funzionanati sulla superficie di Marte! Una vera e propria invasione del pianeta rosso!
Con la MRO saremo in grado di vedere la superficie del pianeta con una risoluzione ancora migliore di quella avuta fino ad oggi.
Incrociamo le dita dunque perchè quella di domani è una manovra veramente critica! [-o<

In termini di spettacolarità, voglio spendere una parola per segnalare che a mio parere le migliori immagini da Marte ci giungono dalla “nostra” Mars Express.
Speriamo che la gemella venusiana sappia fare altrettanto, anche se non in banda ottica…