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Thread: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

  1. #1
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    Spacecraft: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
    Developer: Lockheed Martin Space Systems contracted by the JPL
    Launch Vehicle: Atlas V Rocket
    Destination: Mars
    Dimensions: 31 ft. x 45 ft. x 21 ft. (9.5 m. x 13.6 m. x 6.5 m.) Height includes antenna dish; width includes solar panels
    Weight: 4,800 lbs. (2,180 kg.)
    Memory: 160 gigabits solid-state memory
    Processor: 46 million instructions per second
    Orbit: anywhere from 200 km.- 35,000km.


    Mars is destined to be one of mankind’s stepping stones to the stars, and everyone is planning for that day. NASA, spurred by President Bush’s Space Vision, has been preparing a fleet of probes to map the planet in preparation for the imminent manned mission to the red planet. The newest of which is the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.


    The probe is going through the rigorous testing to prove it’s ready for its voyage -05.18.05

    The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (henceforth referred as MRO) has 4 main goals:

    1. Determine whether life ever arose on Mars
    -Life needs water to survive, so the MRO will specialize in detecting water. It will look for underwater springs that may still be liquid from hydrothermal pools (think Yellowstone). It will also search for alternative energy sources, other then the sun, in which life could use to sustain itself (like chemicals and geothermal energy). They aren’t searching for photosynthetic life because there are “super oxides” on the surface (they basically break down organic matter). It will also look for carbon which is a building block of matter)

    2. Characterize the climate of Mars
    -We will need accurate information on Mars’ climate for future human exploration, and that’s just what the MRO will do. Mars has a very dynamic weather system; its weather is from the seasons it has (just like earth, only twice as long) and it can get very violent, i.e. Mars’ dust storms (which can cover the entire planet).

    Mars’ current weather will also allow us to make accurate estimate of past climatic behavior. This will allow us to learn more about the planet’s history and make long term estimates of it’s future climate.

    3. Characterize the geology of Mars
    -This basically entails the surface features, rock composition, and magnetism. Surface features mean anything from volcanoes to canyons; the MRO) will study how these objects were formed. The MRO will also study the rock composition on Mars; this will tell us age and what events happened over time. There is also magnetism; there are materials on Mars that are magnetic, which suggest Mars once had a magnetic field much like Earth does today. Life needs a magnetic to shield it from cosmic radiation, so this could be one more step to proving or disproving life on Mars.

    4. Prepare for human exploration
    -This calls for several things, starting with UV evaluation. Mars does not have an ozone layer, so we need to know just how much UV radiation reaches the surface. This allows us to prepare for it by designing protective clothing and habitats.

    As mentioned before, Mars has super oxides, and while it probably will not harm astronauts, the threat needs to be assessed all the same.

    It will also search for water, which will be very important to any long term stay on Mars. It can also be separated into hydrogen (for fuel) and oxygen (to breathe or as an oxidizer).

    The mapping power the MRO has is also very paramount; we need accurate maps for landing, science projects, and to locate important resources.

    DON'T POST YET, I'M NOT DONE!!!

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    An artist’s rendering of the MRO

    The MRO will be carrying a suite of instruments dedicated to goals put down in the mission objective. They’re really cool too B).


    The first instrument is the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) (whew, that’s a mouthful). This is a telescopic camera that can “see” in visible and near infrared (to obtain information on mineral groups present). This baby can resolve images up to 3 feet (1 meter). Like I said, cool…


    Say hello to the Mars Color Imager (MARCI). This camera will characterize daily, seasonal, and year-to-year variations in Mars’ climate. It will also observe dust storms and changes in the polar caps using 5 visible bands. Finally, its ultraviolet observations detect variations in ozone, dust, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.


    This beauty is the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM). It basically splits light into different “color” that signify minerals, like those formed in the presence of water. It will be able to map them as small as 60 feet (18 meters).


    This is known as the Shallow Radar (SHARAD). This instrument was designed to find water (liquid or frozen) in the first kilometer of Mars’ crust. It will be able to do this using 15-25 MHz frequency radar waves.

    (No pic)
    The next scientific instrument is the Context Camera (CTX). The CTX will make observations with the HiRISE and CRISM. This provides a broader image, though its resolution suffers some. This combination allows us to observe layers and discover their composition. It will have a resolution of about 8 meters per pixel.

    (No pic)
    Last, but certainly not least is the Mars Climate Sounder (MCS). This is one of the critical instruments for observing the climate. It will record temperature, humidity, dust content in the atmosphere; it will make measurements that are needed to understand the Martian climate and, finally, any variances that may occur.


    The orbiter in its building stage-08.19.04

    The MRO has three other instruments, which are essential to the mission. They are referred to as the engineering instruments; they assist in spacecraft navigation and communications.


    This is the Electra UHF Communications and Navigation Package. As far as I can tell, this was not built specially for this mission; rather it is there for other space missions. It will act like a relay station between earth and future Mars spacecraft, especially for those with limited power (rovers). This package may have other uses, but it is also the main communication link between the probe and earth.

    (No pic)
    The second engineering instrument is the Optical Navigation Camera. Again, it isn’t necessarily needed by the MRO. This time, however, it is being tested for future interplanetary missions; by comparing the observed position of the moons to their predicted positions, relative to the background stars, the mission team will accurately determine the position of the orbiter in relation to Mars.

    (No Pic)
    The final instrument is the Telecommunications Experiment Package. This interesting device tests the use of the Ka-band for greater performance while using less power. Deep-space communication usually uses the radio wave X-band, but the Ka-band is much more efficient for these purposes. The Ka band is higher (32 GHz) then the X band (8 GHz) allowing for higher data rates to be sent. And because this band is experimental, the probe can also use the X-band.


    This is an artist’s concept of the MRO using the SHARAD

    (No Pic)
    This one, the Gravity Field Investigation Package, is one that particularly interests me. It will study the Doppler shift from radio waves to determine the gravitational field. It will also map out the gravitational anomalies found by previous probes. This allows us to understand the subsurface of Mars (up to several hundred kilometers). This also gives the atmosphere density at the spacecraft’s altitude and the seasonal changes in the location of carbon dioxide.

    (No Pic)
    The second science package is the Atmospheric Structure Investigation Accelerometers. This package will determine the atmospheric density at the altitude of the spacecraft. This leads to info about coupling between the lower and upper atmosphere and changes in seasonal winds, and finally, the effects of dust storms on the atmospheric density. With this and the former package, the probe will be able to differienate between drag and gravitational anomalies, thus allowing for better measurements of the gravity field.


    Cool pic, eh? This is the MRO aero breaking.

    The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is set to launched August 12, 2005 using a Lockheed Atlas V-401 rocket. Contact was established 61 minutes after launch, which has shown everything has gone well so far. The trip to Mars is expected to take about 7 months with orbital insertion beginning on March 10, 2006.

    Sources: Universetoday.com, Space.com, and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mro/

    I’m writing this article as member of Community Support as well as to hone my skills as a writer. All compliments and criticisms are welcome and encouraged (be kind though, this is my first article). If I should miss any information, by all means, tell me. I want these articles to be as complete as possible. Also, expect many edits with updates.

    This is written exclusively for Universetoday.com; if anyone wishes to use anything I have written, please ask for my permission first. I take all of my writing very seriously.

    I hope you enjoyed this, I worked very hard on it.

  3. #3
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    You may now post.

  4. #4
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    Good article Bossman, thank you.

    One of the objectives of the radar mapping will be to better resolve the differences in the gravitational anomalies found in prior surveys. At an altitude of only 150km, the resolution will be much greater than existing maps.

    Since the MRO will also be counting molecules, it should be easier to discriminate between drag and gravitational anomalies.

    I am of the opinion this will reveal a surprisingly thin upper atmosphere, and even more surprisingly, greater anomalies than mapped at 300 km.
    “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” ― Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes

  5. #5
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    Thanks for the compliment; I was aiming for it to be easy to read for newcomers in this particular field, while making it informative to all the experts we have on the forums.

    One of the objectives of the radar mapping will be to better resolve the differences in the gravitational anomalies found in prior surveys. At an altitude of only 150km, the resolution will be much greater than existing maps.

    Since the MRO will also be counting molecules, it should be easier to discriminate between drag and gravitational anomalies.
    Er, didn't I put that in the article? I thought I put that in there; I'll add it immediately. Thanks

    I am of the opinion this will reveal a surprisingly thin upper atmosphere, and even more surprisingly, greater anomalies than mapped at 300 km.
    What makes you say that?

    There are some other things I forgot to add (mainly the orbit) so I'm going back and adding some stuff. Also, sorry to everyone who has a slow internet, these pics must have taken forever to load...

  6. #6
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    Originally posted by bossman20081@Aug 5 2005, 09:39 PM
    ...
    I am of the opinion this will reveal a surprisingly thin upper atmosphere, and even more surprisingly, greater anomalies than mapped at 300 km.
    What makes you say that?

    ...
    Many many things, but focusing on gravity anomally maps: The 300 km mapping does not jive well with mapping at higher altitudes - The anomalies appear greater. To a degree this should be expected because of the higher resolution, but as of now, there appears to be an -unphysical (unmodelable)- wavelength bias.

    There are also discrepancies in the Martian center-of-inertia, depending upon whether orbiter or landing-site data are preferentially weighted.

    Cassini scientists cannot resolve the molecular head count with the drag force experienced on passes near Titan. Will we find this true on Mars as well?

    The parachute drag forces on the Viking and Pathfinder landers have proven very difficult - actually impossible - to model, and we are still waiting for EDL data from Spirit and Opportunity.

    All of this is very curious...but is it systematic? MRO should help us pin down the elusive martian atmospheric and gravitational quirks.
    “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” ― Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes

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