Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is scheduled for launch in just under three hours time at 07:50 EDT. It will take about seven months to get to Mars, finally arriving in March 2006. However, it then spends a further six months aerobraking process where it uses the top of the Martian atmosphere to help adjust its orbit. In November 2006 it will then start doing some proper science such as using radar to look below the surface (like MARSIS) and it will be taking higher resolution images than the Mars Surveyor spacecraft.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Artist Tina DiCiccos image highlights four important stages of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission: launch, aerobraking, science and relay. CREDIT: NASA/JPL/DiCicco
The images MRO sends back should have a resolution of around 1 metre, so will help to find boulder free landing sites for future landers. This will also allow it to look for Beagle 2 - possibly the first British spacecraft to get to Mars. As Beagle 2 never sent back a signal, nobody knows if it crashed or 'bounced' off the atmosphere during descent. Hopefully MRO will spot it.

Another goal of MRO is to act as an interplanetary relay for other Mars missions - it will sit in orbit around Mars transmitting back to the Earth. I think I read that it will transmit at Ka band which is around 30 GHz (or 1cm wavelength). NASA have moved up to a higher frequency as it allows more data to be sent. Hmmm ... I wonder what the strength of the signal will be.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Thursday 11th Aug 2005 (09:05 UTC) | Permalink
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