Mars Odyssey Ready for Aerobreaking
Pasadena - 18 October 2001
The $297 million Martian Odyssey spacecraft is on its way to a date with the Red Planet. At a pre-arrival briefing Thursday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Odyssey team members said that the spacecraft is ready to fire its main engine and begin aerobreaking into Mars orbit on October 23rd.
Odyssey project manager Matt Landano reported, "We unlinked the sequence of commands that control the orbit insertion on October 15th. Now we will closely monitor the spacecraft's progress as it approaches Mars and executes the orbit insertion burn."
The engines will fire for about 20 minutes before entering the Mars atmosphere in the spacecraft's first aerobreaking maneuver. In this burn, the spacecraft will use about 262.8 kilograms (579.4 pounds) of hydrazine propellant.
"[Mars Odyssey] is now poised to perform this critical insertion burn …the spacecraft is excellent. The navigation is superb. The project is ready for success," says Landano.
The Odyssey will begin its three-month aerobreaking procedure in a 19-hour orbit. In a series of orbital braking maneuvers it will circularize its orbit. By January 31st the spacecraft will have shrunk its orbit down to a quick 2-hours.
Odyssey lead navigator Bob Mase has worked on the project for the past four years. "We're very excited! This is sort of the pinnacle for us. We're finally getting to Mars, getting into orbit. Doing the things that we planned and prepared to do."
With excitement comes caution, however. The Odyssey team is mindful that the world is watching. They seem certain that careful checking and double-checking of the Odyssey's systems assures there won't be a repeat of the Mars '98 failures.
"I'm excited about this event," says Roger Gibbs, Odyssey deputy project manager. "I have the highest confidence that next Tuesday we will have a successful orbit insertion because all reasonable steps have been taken."
"It's an anxious time for us, but we're cautiously confident that everything is going well and we're going to succeed," says Mase. "We've done everything that we can to make sure that it's going to work right. So that makes us feel more confident."
Mars program scientist Jim Garvin says that the Mars Odyssey spacecraft is, "critical to understanding where we need to go on Mars." Garvin says that the Odyssey is a field scout. It will tell us where we need to send future landers to look for water and possible Martian life.
Odyssey carries several science instruments to thoroughly search the planet: A gamma ray spectrometer that includes a neutron spectrometer and high-energy neutron detector; A thermal-emission imaging system called THEMIS; and a Martian radiation environment experiment.
Garvin is excited about what we might find with these instruments, "At the surface we anticipate there could be minerals preserved, little things in rocks like gold veins and things, that tell us of the past action of water. There are key minerals that we can see with the THEMIS camera system and we'll know there had been water there. And will expect these things to have persisted, particularly if water had lasted long enough on the surface."
The primary mission is expected to last 917 days. During that time Odyssey will undoubtedly change our perception of the Red planet. Odyssey is also expected to serve as a communication relay for future US and international landers in 2004.
The Mars Odyssey will begin its main engine burn at 7:26 p.m. PDT on October 23rd. But, flight controllers won't receive confirmation until the craft emerges from the far side of Mars at about 8 p.m. PDT.
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