NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter blasted off from Cape Canaveral in 2005, on a search for evidence that water persisted on the surface of Mars for a long period of time.
While other Mars missions have shown that water flowed across the surface in Mars' history, it remains a mystery whether
water was ever around long enough to provide a habitat for life.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will study the history of water on Mars
a seven-month cruise to Mars and six months of aerobraking to reach its science orbit, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter began seeking out the history of water on Mars with its science instruments. The instruments zoom in for extreme close-up photography of the martian surface, analyze minerals, look for subsurface water,
trace how much dust and water are distributed in the atmosphere, and monitor daily global weather.
These studies are
identifying deposits of minerals that may have formed in water over long periods of time, looking for evidence of shorelines
of ancient seas and lakes, and analyzing deposits placed in layers over time by flowing water. The mission is examining whether
underground martian ice discovered by the Mars Odyssey orbiter is the top layer of a deep ice deposit or a shallow layer in equilibrium with the atmosphere and its seasonal cycle
of water vapor.
Reconnaissance Orbiter will be able to look at small-scale features
In its survey of the red planet, the Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter is increasing tenfold the number of spots surveyed close-up. One of the orbiter's cameras is the largest ever
flown on a planetary mission. Though previous cameras on other Mars orbiters could identify objects no smaller than a school
bus, this camera can spot something as small as a dinner table. That capability has allowed the orbiter to identify obstacles
such as large rocks that could jeopardize the safety of future landers and rovers, including the Phoenix mission. Its imaging
spectrometer looks at small-scale areas about five times smaller than a football field, a scale perfect for identifying any
hot springs or other small water features.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will be a powerful communications and navigation link
telecommunications systems provides a crucial service for future spacecraft, serving as the first link in a communications bridge back to Earth, an
"interplanetary Internet" that can be used by numerous international spacecraft in coming years. Testing the use
of a radio frequency called Ka-band, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has demonstrated the potential for greater performance in communications using significantly
The orbiter also carries an experimental navigation camera. Similar cameras on orbiters of the future will serve as high-precision interplanetary "eyes" to guide incoming
landers to precise landings on Mars, opening up exciting but otherwise dangerous areas of the planet to exploration.
orbiter's primary mission ends about five-and-a-half years after launch, on Dec. 31, 2010. For details on all mission
stages, see the Mission Timeline
One of the new technologies aboard MRO is the HiRISE, which is the most advance visual sensor sent to Mars so
HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment)
has photographed hundreds of targeted swaths of Mars' surface in unprecedented detail.
|The HiRISE camera has provided the highest-resolution images yet from martian orbit.
The camera operates in visible wavelengths, the same as human eyes, but with a telescopic
lens that produces images at resolutions never before seen in planetary exploration missions. These high-resolution images
enable scientists to distinguish 1-meter-size (about 3-foot-size) objects on Mars and to study the morphology (surface structure)
in a much more comprehensive manner than ever before.
HiRISE also makes observations at near-infrared wavelengths to
obtain information on the mineral groups present. From an altitude that varies from 200 to 400 kilometers (about 125 to 250
miles) above Mars, HiRISE acquires surface images containing individual, basketball-size (30 to 60 centimeters, or 1 to 2
feet wide) pixel elements, allowing surface features 4 to 8 feet across to be resolved. These new, high-resolution images
are providing unprecedented views of layered materials, gullies, channels, and other science targets, in addition to characterizing
possible future landing sites.
Areas for close-up HiRISE imaging are selected on the basis of data returned from Mars Global Surveyor , Mars Odyssey, and regional surveys conducted by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's own instruments.
The Principal Investigator
(lead scientist) for HiRISE is Alfred McEwen from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona.
the instrument site:
HiRISE Instrument Site
MARCI (Mars Color Imager)
a global weather map of Mars to help characterize daily, seasonal, and year-to-year variations in the red planet's climate.
also observes processes such as dust storms and changes in the polar cap using five visible bands.
In addition, MARCI
makes ultraviolet observations at two wavelengths to detect variations in ozone, dust, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
MARCI observes these processes on scales of tens of kilometers.
The Principal Investigator (lead scientist) is Mike Malin from Malin Space Science Systems.