Spacecraft: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Developer: Lockheed Martin Space Systems contracted by the JPL
Launch Vehicle: Atlas V Rocket
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 mankindís stepping stones to the stars, and everyone is planning for that day. NASA, spurred by President Bushís 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 itís 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 arenít searching for photosynthetic life because there are ďsuper oxidesĒ 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 Marsí climate for future human exploration, and thatís 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. Marsí dust storms (which can cover the entire planet).
Marsí current weather will also allow us to make accurate estimate of past climatic behavior. This will allow us to learn more about the planetís history and make long term estimates of itís 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.
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