NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched on Aug. 12, hascompleted one of the first tasks of its seven-month cruise to Mars, acalibration activity for the spacecraft's Mars Color Imager instrument.
"We have transitioned from launch mode to cruise mode, and thespacecraft continues to perform extremely well," said Dan Johnston,Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter deputy mission manager at NASA's JetPropulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The first and largest of four trajectory correction maneuvers scheduled before the orbiter reaches Mars is planned for Aug. 27.
For the calibration task on Aug. 15, the spacecraft slewed about 15degrees to scan the camera across the positions of the Earth and Moon,then returned to the attitude it will hold for most of the cruise. Datawere properly recorded onboard, downlinked to Earth and received by theMars Color Imager team at Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. Dr.Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems, principal investigatorfor Mars Color Imager, said the image data are being processed andanalyzed.
This multiple-waveband camera is the widest-angle instrument of fourcameras on the orbiter, designed for imaging all of Mars daily from analtitude of about 300 kilometers (186 miles). Imaged at a range of morethan 1 million kilometers (620,000 miles) away, the crescent Earth andMoon fill only a few pixels and are not resolved in the image. However,this is enough useful information to characterize the instrument'sresponse in its seven color bands, including two ultraviolet channelsthat will be used to trace ozone in the Mars atmosphere. This is thefirst of two events early in the cruise phase that check instrumentcalibrations after launching. The second will occur in early Septemberwhen higher resolution cameras are pointed at Earth and the Moon as thespacecraft continues its flight to Mars.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will reach Mars and enter orbit onabout March 10, 2006. After gradually adjusting the shape of its orbitfor half a year, it will begin its primary science phase in November2006. The mission will examine Mars in unprecedented detail from loworbit, returning several times more data than all previous Marsmissions combined. Scientists will use its instruments to gain a betterunderstanding of the history and current distribution of Mars' water.By inspecting possible landing sites and by providing a high-data-raterelay, it will also support future missions that land on Mars.
More information about the mission is available online at http://www.nasa.gov/mro .
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission is managed by JPL, adivision of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, for theNASA Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems,Denver, prime contractor for the project, built both the spacecraft andthe launch vehicle.
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