NASA launched its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on August 12, 2005, and the spacecraft entered Mars’ orbit on March 10, 2006. NASA sent MRO to Mars to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of the Red Planet from Orbit. Since its entry into the Martian orbit, the MRO has been functioning pretty well and has successfully sent many information regarding Mars’ daily weather and surface conditions. Now, NASA is preparing to keep MRO functional till the next decade.
Michael Meyer, lead scientist of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at NASA’s Washington headquarters said in a statement that they are counting on MRO remaining in service for many more years. “It’s not just the communications relay that MRO provides, as important as that is. It’s also the science-instrument observations. Those help us understand potential landing sites before they are visited, and interpret how the findings on the surface relate to the planet as a whole,” said Meyer.
As per NASA, the MRO has performed exceedingly well in Martian orbit and it has managed to work more than double its planned mission life. Now they want to push the functioning of MRO till the next decade so that its valuable information could aide other missions. MRO Project Manager Dan Johnston of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California said that they know that the MRO team is a critical element for the Mars Program to support other missions for the long haul, so they are finding ways to extend the spacecraft’s life. Johnson further said that in flight operations, their emphasis is on minimizing risk to the spacecraft while carrying out an ambitious scientific and programmatic plan.
Currently, the MRO is jointly operated by JPL and Lockheed Martin Space, Denver. The MRO is fitted with scientific instruments like spectrometers, radar, and cameras so that it could study the landforms, stratigraphy, minerals as well as ice of Mars. But now, some of its instruments have undergone wear and tear which has degraded its capabilities. But NASA believes that spacecraft’s extended mission will further provide data relay from assets on Red Planet’s surface and observations with its science instruments, despite some degradation in capabilities. For the longevity of the MRO mission, NASA has planned to rely mostly on the Star tracker and use the aging gyroscopes as less as possible. The MRO team is planning to switch the spacecraft into all stellar mode in March.