Friday, May 20, 2005

Mars Odyssey - photo!

Currently there are several active robotic satellites in orbit around Mars. One of these is the Mars Odyssey, another is Mars Orbiter Camera. Recently the Mars Orbiter Camera took photos of Mars Odyssey — an amazing technical achievement. In the words of Malin Space Science Systems:

The Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) images shown here are the first pictures of a spacecraft orbiting Mars taken by another spacecraft orbiting Mars. In April 2005, the MOC aboard Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) was used to take pictures of the other two spacecraft currently operating in orbit around Mars: NASA's Mars Odyssey and the European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express.

The MGS MOC is able to resolve features on the surface of Mars as small as a few meters across from its nominal 350 to 405 kilometers (217 to 252 miles) altitude. From a distance of 100 kilometers (62 miles), MOC would be able to resolve features substantially smaller than 1 meter across. Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL; Pasadena, California), Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company (LMSSC, Denver, Colorado), and Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS; San Diego, California) worked very closely together to acquire images of Mars Express and Mars Odyssey.

Mars Odyssey

Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey are both in nearly circular, near-polar orbits. Odyssey is in an orbit slightly higher than that of MGS, in order to preclude the possibility that the two orbiters would collide. However, the two spacecraft occasionally come as close to one another as 15 kilometers (9 miles).

The figure at right shows an extreme enlargement of the best MOC view of Odyssey; the fourth figure is a computer-generated drawing scaled to the same size. The MOC image clearly shows the Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS) and its 6 meters-long boom, the high gain antenna used to transmit not only the science data from Odyssey's own instruments, but also to relay data from the two Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), and its solar array panel.

Mars Odyssey was launched on 7 April 2001, and reached Mars on 24 October 2001. Mars Global Surveyor left Earth on 7 November 1996, and arrived in Mars orbit on 12 September 1997. Both spacecraft are in an extended mission phase, both have relayed data from the Mars Exploration Rovers, and both are continuing to return exciting new results from Mars.

You can read more about this photo, and see more photos, at the Malin site. Click on the photo at right for a larger view.

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