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NASA's MRO Completes 60,000 Trips Around Mars

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter hit a dizzying
milestone this morning: It completed 60,000 loops around the Red Planet at 10:39
A.M. PDT (1:39 pm EDT). On average, MRO takes 112 minutes to circle Mars,
whipping around at about 2 miles per second (3.4 kilometers per second).

Since entering orbit on March 10, 2006, the spacecraft has
been collecting daily science about the planet's surface and atmosphere,
including detailed views with
Its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE).
HiRISE is powerful enough to see the size of a dining room
table from 186 miles (300 kilometers) above the surface.

Meanwhile, MRO is watching the daily weather and probing the
subsurface for ice, providing data that can influence the designs of future
missions that will take humans to Mars

But MRO is not just back its own science; it serves
in a network of relays that beam data back to Earth from NASA's Mars rovers
Landers. Later this month, MRO will hit another milestone: It will have relayed

terabit of data, largely from NASA's Curiosity rover. If you've ever enjoyed
one of Curiosity's selfies
or sprawling landscapes
or wondered at its scientific discoveries, MRO
probably helped make them possible.

 MRO infographic

"MRO has given scientists and the public a new
perspective of Mars, "said Project Manager Dan Johnston at NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which leads the mission. "We've
also supported NASA's fleet of Mars surface missions, allowing them to send
their images and discoveries back to scientists on earth. "

Eyes in the Sky

While rovers and landers can study only their immediate
near, orbiters can view wide swaths of the entire planet; MRO can actually
Target any point on the Martian globe approximately once every two weeks.

MRO's aerial perspective also provides scientists with
complementary view of a dynamic planet. As seasons change, they can see
avalanches and cloud patterns. HiRISE has imaged CO 2
ice sublimating
migrating sand
dunes and meteorite
reshaping the landscape. With its Mars Climate Sounder instrument
and its Mars Color Imager camera, MRO can also study atmospheric events like
the massive global dust
that's been fatal to NASA's Opportunity
rover in 2018.

"Mars is our laboratory," said MRO Deputy
Project Scientist Leslie Tamppari or JPL. "After more than a decade, we've
Get enough data to formate and test hypotheses to see how they change
or hold up over time. "

Daily Calls to

MRO is one of several orbiters that send data from Mars to
Earth each day. The same way MRO is the primary relay for Curiosity, Odyssey (NASA's
longest-lived orbiter) is the primary relay for the agency's latest Martian
resident, InSight. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter
recently started changing its orbit
in preparation to cover the March 2020 rover's entry after the country in February
2021. After data is sent up to an orbiter, it's beamed to giant antennas at one
of three locations around Earth, all of which are part of NASA's Deep Space

That relay network is now international. The European
Space Agency's Trace Gas Orbiter has been carrying an ever-increasing share of
data sent from the surface. And all of these orbiters are preparing for the
arrival of ESA's Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover, which is scheduled to land
the same year as March 2020.

Mars Landings

Orbiters like MRO and Odyssey are snap-happy, constantly
imaging potential landing sites for future missions.
But after a site has been selected and a mission is sent to Mars, orbiters play
another critical role

Before a surface mission can begin conducting science, it
has to land safely. Successful landings require clocklike precision
spacecraft enters the Martian atmosphere at just the right angle, the parachute
opens at the right time and sensors detect the rapidly approaching surface.

MRO and other orbiters serve as black boxes, recording data
about each landing, which grows more difficult with the sort of added mass that
comes with a mission like March 2020. Engineers use the data to design safe
missions – which will be key to sending astronauts to Mars. With plans to return
astronauts at the surface of the Moon by 2024, NASA is looking ahead to humans
exploring the Red Planet, too.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech
Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for
NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The University of Arizona
Tucson operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies
Corp. in Boulder, Colorado. Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, provided
and operates MARCI

News Media Contact

Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.


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