NASA picks spacecraft builder for 2005 Mars orbiter
Posted: October 4, 2001

NASA has selected Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, to build the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a spacecraft scheduled for launch in August 2005 to return the highest resolution images yet of the Red Planet.

This artist's concept shows NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter flying over the Ganges-Eos Chasmas. Photo: NASA/JPL
Lockheed Martin will build the orbiter bus and be responsible for integrating and testing six science instruments and two engineering payloads. Lockheed Martin will also provide spacecraft operations support for the five-and-a-half year mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission.

The contract awarded to Lockheed is for $145 million, including the development and operations phases.

The 1,800 kilograms (3,970 pounds) orbiter is twice the mass and will return over 12 times the data of the Mars Global Surveyor, which has been in orbit around Mars for more than four years and has returned more than 101,000 images of the surface. The Global Surveyor spacecraft was also built by Lockheed Martin under contract to JPL.

The Mars Reconnaissance Obiter science payload currently includes the following instruments: a high-resolution camera, a visible/near-infrared imaging spectrometer, an atmospheric sounder, a wide-angle color imager, a shallow sub-surface sounding radar and a context imager. The engineering payload consists of a telecommunications package that will provide surface communications relay and approach navigation support, and an optical navigation camera that will demonstrate precision entry navigation capability for future landers and orbiters.

"With its specially designed instrument complement, this mission will investigate the surface of Mars at a resolution never before achieved from orbit," said Jim Graf, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project manager at JPL. "We will be able to resolve features the size of beach balls. The images will help determine future landing sites that are both scientifically interesting and free from landing hazards."

"The goal of this orbiter is to understand the history of water on Mars by observing the planet's atmosphere, surface and subsurface in unprecedented detail. This mission will identify the best sites for a new generation of landed vehicles to explore, by virtue of its ability to find local evidence of the chemical and geological 'fingerprints' of water and other critical processes," said Dr. Richard Zurek, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project scientist at JPL. "The Reconnaissance Orbiter will explore from orbit several hundred localities on the surface of Mars, observing details that were previously visible only to landers."

JPL manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.