Thursday, August 13, 2009

All three spacecraft are moving at almost 7,000 miles per hour, and at 62 miles distance the field-of-view of the Mars Orbiter Camera is only 830 yard

All three spacecraft are moving at almost 7,000 miles per hour, and

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at 62 miles distance the field-of-view of the Mars Orbiter Camera is only 830 yards across. If timing had been off by only a few seconds, the images would have been blank.

Mars Express was passing about 155 miles away when the Mars Orbiter Camera on Mars Global Surveyor photographed it on April 20. The next day, the came

Mars Express was passing about 155 miles away when the Mars Orbiter Camera on Mars Global

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Surveyor photographed it on April 20. The next day, the camera caught Mars Odyssey passing 56 to 84 miles away.

"The spacecraft has many redundant systems that should help us get it back into a stable operation, but first we need to re-establish communications,"

"The spacecraft has many redundant systems that should help us get it back into a stable operation, but first we need

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to re-establish communications," said Tom Thorpe, project manager for Mars Global Surveyor at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

No further signal was heard during subsequent orbits on Nov. 5 and Nov. 6. Engineers concluded that the spacecraft had made an additional pre-programm

No further signal was heard during subsequent orbits on Nov. 5 and Nov. 6. Engineers concluded that the spacecraft

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had made an additional pre-programmed response, intended to help it survive when it senses that a solar array is stuck. The spacecraft turns that array toward the sun to maintain its power supply and rotates the rest of the spacecraft in the same direction, thereby making communication with Earth less effective.

Following these indications of difficulty, a two-day lapse in contact occurred on Nov. 3 and 4. The signal from the spacecraft was received on Nov. 5

Following these indications of difficulty, a two-day lapse in contact occurred on Nov. 3 and 4. The signal from the spacecraft

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was received on Nov. 5 during four different orbits, but it did not carry any data from the spacecraft. The signal's frequency indicated that the spacecraft had entered safe mode, a pre-programmed state of restricted activity in which it awaits instructions from Earth.

On Nov. 2, one orbit after commands were sent for a routine maneuver to move the solar panels, the spacecraft reported that the motor moving one of th

On Nov. 2, one orbit after commands were sent for a routine maneuver to move the

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solar panels, the spacecraft reported that the motor moving one of the arrays had experienced errors. Onboard software responded as programmed, switching the spacecraft to a backup motor controller, then to a backup circuitry connection.

The orbiter has operated longer than any other spacecraft ever sent to Mars. It has returned more information about Mars than all earlier missions com

The orbiter has operated longer than any other spacecraft ever sent to Mars. It has returned more information

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about Mars than all earlier missions combined and has succeeded far enough beyond its original mission to see two later NASA orbiters arrive: Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Among many important accomplishments so far, Mars Global Surveyor has found many young gullies apparently cut by flowing water, discovered water-related mineral deposits that became a destination for NASA's Opportunity rover, mapped the planet topographically and examined many potential landing sites on Mars.

Camera

All three spacecraft are moving at almost 7,000 miles per hour, and at 62 miles distance the field-of-view of the Mars Orbiter Camera is only 830 yards across. If timing had been off by only a few seconds, the images would hav

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e been blank.

Washington

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages Mars Global Surveyor for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operate

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s the spacecraft.

important

Mars Global Surveyor launched in 1996 on a mission designed to study Mars from orbit for two years. It accomplished many important discoveries during nine years in orbit. On Nov. 2, the spacecraft transmitted information that one of its arrays was not pivoting as commanded. Loss of signal from the orbiter began on the following orbit.

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important

Mars Global Surveyor launched in 1996 on a mission designed to study Mars from orbit for two years. It accomplished many important discoveries during nine years in orbit. On Nov. 2, the spacecraft transmitted information that one of its arrays was not pivoting as commanded. Loss of signal from the orbiter began on the following orbit.

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NASA

The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The University of California, Los Angeles, is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Other scientific partners include Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Ariz.; Max Planck Inst

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itute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany; DLR Institute for Planetary Research, Berlin; Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, Rome; and the Italian Space Agency. Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., designed and built the Dawn spacecraft.

2015

Dawn's 4.8-billion-kilometer (3-billion-mile) odyssey includes orbiting asteroid Vesta in 2011 and the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015. These two giants of the asteroid belt have been witness to much of our solar system's history. By using Dawn's instruments to study both objects for several months, scientists can more accurately compare and contrast the two.

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Dawn's science instrument suite will measure geology, elemental and mineral composition, shape, surface topography, geomorphology and tectonic history, and will also seek water-bearing minerals. In addition, the Dawn spacecraft's orbit characteristics around Vesta and Ceres will be used to measure the celestial bodies' masses and gravity fields.

orbit

"The laws of physics tell us that Mars will pay a price for helping Dawn," said Rayman. "The flyby will cause Mars to slow in its orbit enough that after one year, its position will be off by about the width of an atom. If you add that up, it will take about 180 million years for Mars to be out of position by one inch (2.5 centimeters). We appreciate Mars making that s

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acrifice so Dawn can conduct its exciting mission of discovery in the asteroid belt."

planet

While an accurately flown encounter with the planet Mars makes a big difference in the life of NASA's asteroid pioneer, the planet itself does not come out unscathed. Weighing in at all of 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilograms), Dawn has its own mass and thereby its own gravitational field. In contrast, the somewhat more massive planet is almost 600 million-million-mill

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ion times more substantial than that of the spacecraft.

more

But the Mars gravity assist is not the final hurdle on Dawn's road to the asteroid belt. The subsequent 30 months include more than 27 months of blue-green tinged ion thrusting to successfully rendezvous with Dawn's first target –Vesta.

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from

"It is fortuitous that we need Mars to get out to Vesta and Ceres," said Carol Raymond, Dawn's deputy principal investigator, from JPL. "Since there are other spacecraft currently operating at Mars with similar instrumentation, we will be able to check our measurements against their knowledge of Mars, and carry that information farther out into the solar syste

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m."

than

Also happy for the opportunity to fly past the fourth rock from the sun is Dawn's science team. With asteroid Vesta still more than two-and-a-half years away, Mars provides the perfect opportunity to give their highly-tuned instruments a workout.

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system

"Without the gravity assist, our mission would not have been affordable, even with the extraordinary capability of the ion propulsion system," said Rayman. "That's why we are happy Dawn is now plunging toward Mars."

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spacecraft

If Dawn had to perform these orbital adjustments on its own with no Mars gravitational deflection, it would have required the spacecraft to fire up its engines and change velocity by more than 5,800 miles per hour (9,330 kilometers per second). Such velocity changes would have required Dawn to carry an extra 230 pounds (104 kilograms) of xenon fuel.

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