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> Huge Spy Satellite Set To Launch To Mars

Master Of His Domain
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Posts: 12737
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Posted: Dec 27 2005, 11:00 PM
Quote Post
This is an old report from my archives:

Huge Spy Satellite Set To Launch To Mars
By Kelly Young
NASA is preparing to launch the largest spacecraft ever sent to Mars. The behemoth will skim relatively close to the Red Planet's surface - beaming back more data than all previous missions combined - and scout out landing sites for future Mars missions.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is scheduled to begin its six-month journey to Mars on 10 August 2005. It will blast off on an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, US.

"MRO is really the gateway to the future of Mars," says Jim Garvin, NASA's chief scientist. "It is a reconnaissance engine like no other we've ever sent." The colossal spacecraft stands two storeys high and four storeys across, weighing in at 2180 kilograms when fully fuelled.

When it begins its two-year primary science phase in November 2006, it will glide 20% closer to the surface than any of the three spacecraft now circling the planet. From an average altitude of about 305 kilometres, it will be able to take high-resolution images over an area 10 times larger than previous surveys.

Bigger, better, faster, more

With the largest communications antenna ever flown to Mars, the orbiter will be able to beam back 10 times more information per minute than any other Mars probe. "Other missions have been producing fantastic data, but they have been sending the data back through what is essentially a straw," says James Graf, the mission's project scientist.

These new, improved science measurements will help NASA scout out landing spots for future robotic landers, such as Phoenix - set to launch in 2007 - and the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover scheduled for lift-off in 2009. It will also search for safe and scientifically intriguing landing spots for future human missions. "MRO is all about finding the right places to go," Garvin told New Scientist.

All-seeing eyes

It will conduct its reconnaissance with six science instruments:

* The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) will snap pictures that can resolve objects as small as an office desk over 1% of the entire Martian surface.

* The Context Camera will put these pictures in perspective, taking a wider-angle approach to cover at least 15% of the surface.

* The Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) will be able to identify minerals over areas as small as a swimming pool. It will map the mineralogy of the globe at a resolution of 200 metres, hunting for signs of minerals deposited in a watery environment.

* The Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument, provided by the Italian Space Agency, will hunt for subsurface rock, ice and liquid water by scanning 500 m below the Martian surface. It boasts a vertical resolution of 10 m - higher than the MARSIS radar on Europe's Mars Express orbiter, which will probe down to about 5 kilometres.

* The Mars Climate Sounder will measure the atmosphere's water vapour, dust and temperature with a two-fold increase in sensitivity over current probes.

* Mars Color Imager will track daily weather changes.

Another instrument aims to make future landings safer. The Optical Navigation Camera will use background stars to try to find Mars's moons Phobos and Deimos based on their predicted positions. If the method works, the landers Phoenix and MSL could use it to make a more precise entry into the planet's atmosphere to land closer to their targets. MRO will also act as a relay station for communications between the landers and Earth.

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