International interplanetary networking succeeds
NASA/ESA NEWS RELEASE
Posted: February 12, 2004
A pioneering demonstration of communications between NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit and the European Space Agency (ESA) Mars Express orbiter succeeded.
On February 6, while Mars Express was flying over the area Spirit was examining, the orbiter transferred commands from Earth to the rover and relayed data from the robotic explorer back to Earth.
Jennifer Trosper, Spirit mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., said, "We have an international interplanetary communications network established at Mars."
ESA and NASA planned this demonstration as part of continuing efforts to cooperate in space and to enable plans to use joint communications assets to support future missions to the surface of Mars.
The commands for the rover were transferred from Spirit's operations team at JPL to ESA's European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, where they were translated into commands for Mars Express.
"This is excellent news," said JPL's Richard Horttor, project manager for NASA's role in Mars Express. "The communication sessions between Mars Express and Spirit were pristine. Not a single bit of data was missing or added, and there were no duplications."
This exercise demonstrated the increased flexibility and capabilities of interagency cooperation and highlighted the spirit of close support essential in undertaking international space exploration.
Spirit and its twin Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, frequently use two NASA orbiters, Mars Odyssey and Mars Global Surveyor, for relaying communications. The rovers also can communicate directly with the Earth-based antennas of NASA's Deep Space Network in California, Spain and Australia, another layer of international cooperation.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project and NASA participation in Mars Express for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington.
NASA has approved an extended mission for the Mars Exploration Rovers, handing them up to five months of overtime assignments as they finish their three-month prime mission.
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