Space

February 14, 2014

NASA moves longest-serving Mars spacecraft for new observations

nasa-mars
NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft has tweaked its orbit to help scientists make the first systematic observations of how morning fogs, clouds and surface frost develop in different seasons on the Red Planet.

The maneuver took place Feb. 11.

Odyssey team engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver, designed the gentle move to accelerate Odyssey’s drift toward a morning-daylight orbit. The desired change will occur gradually until the intended orbit geometry is reached in November 2015 and another maneuver halts the drift.

The change will enable observation of changing ground temperatures after sunrise and after sunset in thousands of places on Mars. Those observations could yield insight about the composition of the ground and about temperature-driven processes, such as warm-season flows observed on some slopes, and geysers fed by spring thawing of carbon-dioxide ice near Mars’ poles.

“We’re teaching an old spacecraft new tricks,” said Odyssey Project Scientist Jeffrey Plaut of JPL. “Odyssey will be in position to see Mars in a more different light from ever before.”

Neither Odyssey, nor any other NASA Mars orbiter since the 1970s, has flown an orbital pattern with a view of the ground in morning daylight. Earlier NASA orbiters and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter have provided some tantalizing views of morning mists on Mars, but have concentrated on afternoon observation times when views of the surface are less hazy.

Odyssey was launched in 2001 and began its science mission 12 years ago this month. It is the longest-working spacecraft ever sent to Mars.

Odyssey completed Tuesday’s maneuver at 12:03 p.m. PST (3:03 p.m. EST). It used four thrusters, each providing about 5 pounds (22 newtons) of force for a 29-second burn.

“This veteran spacecraft performed exactly as planned,” said Odyssey Project Manager David Lehman of JPL.

Odyssey flies in an orbit nearly over the poles and synchronized with the sun. For most of its first six years at Mars, the orbit was set at about 5 o’clock, local solar time. At every spot Odyssey flew over as it made its dozen daily passes from the north pole region to the south pole region, the local solar time was about 5 p.m. Beneath the south-to-north leg of the orbit, the time was about 5 a.m. That orbit provided an advantage for the orbiter’s Gamma Ray Spectrometer to have its cooling equipment pointed away from the sun. The spectrometer checked for evidence of water near the Martian surface. It made important discoveries of how widely water ice — detected as hydrogen– and other elements are distributed on Mars.

Later, Odyssey worked for three years in a 4 o’clock orbit. That provided an advantage for mineral mapping by the orbiter’s Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS). Mid-afternoon warmth made minerals’ infrared signatures easier to identify. This timing, however, added stress to Odyssey’s power system. It put more of each orbit into the planet’s shadow, where solar panels are unproductive. After providing radio-relay support for the 2012 landing of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, a maneuver set Odyssey on a slow drift to later times of day to help preserve the spacecraft’s aging battery.

THEMIS Principal Investigator Philip Christensen of Arizona State University in Tempe, proposed letting the time of the orbit shift past 6 o’clock and then making daylight observations on the south-to-north half of the orbit, at about 6:45 a.m., rather than the north-to-south half. The science team and NASA agreed, and the Odyssey project planned this week’s maneuver to get to the desired orbit sooner.

“We don’t know exactly what we’re going to find when we get to an orbit where we see the morning just after sunrise,” Christensen said. “We can look for seasonal differences. Are fogs more common in winter or spring? We will look systematically. We will observe clouds in visible light and check the temperature of the ground in infrared.”

After the next orbit-adjustment maneuver, to lock into the 6:45 a.m. local time in November 2015, Odyssey will have about enough propellant left for nine to 10 years of operation at estimated annual consumption rates. In addition to conducting its own observations, Odyssey serves as an important communications relay for spacecraft on Mars’ surface.

JPL manages Odyssey for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems built the spacecraft and collaborates with JPL in mission operations.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
LM-satellite

Lockheed Martin makes tiny satellite cooling system

Lockheed Martin scientists are packing three times the power density into a key satellite cooling system whose previous design is already the lightest in its class. This project continues the company’s effort to reduce co...
 
 
Northrop Grumman photograph by Bob Brown

Northrop Grumman delivers telescope structure for James Webb Space Telescope

Northrop Grumman photograph by Bob Brown Northrop Grumman employees preparing the telescope structure, for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope for shipment to Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. REDONDO BEACH, Cal...
 
 

SSL awarded DARPA contract to study on-orbit satellite assembly

Space Systems/Loral announced Aug. 26 it was awarded a contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to study on-orbit robotic assembly of geostationary communications satellites. Called Dragonfly, the program is designed to enable larger and more powerful satellites that cannot be launched fully assembled, to be packaged in pieces within a standard launch...
 

 
NASA photograph

NASA extends Raytheon contract for facilities that support human spaceflight

NASA photograph NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) in Houston, Texas. The NBL is the pool NASA uses for astronaut spacewalk training and testing scenarios and new equipment. Raytheon provides maintenance and operati...
 
 
SSL-satellite

SSL-built satellite for Intelsat begins post-launch maneuvers according to plan

Space Systems/Loral, a leading provider of commercial satellites, today announced that a satellite designed and built for Intelsat S.A., the leading provider of satellite services, was launched Aug. 20 and is successfully perf...
 
 

Send your name to Mars on NASA’s next Red Planet mission

Mars enthusiasts around the world can participate in NASAís journey to Mars by adding their names to a silicon microchip headed to the Red Planet aboard NASA’s InSight Mars lander, scheduled to launch next year. “Our next step in the journey to Mars is another fantastic mission to the surface,” said Jim Green, director of...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>