NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has successfully entered an elliptical orbit around the planet, following a seven month voyage.
Cheers went up at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, as MRO sent word back to Earth, following a nervous wait for the spacecraft to burn its engines to break into orbit – and clear the dark side of Mars to send a signal back to Earth.
The burn lasted 27 minutes, slowing the vehicle to 14,000 mph, which will allow the craft to be grabbed by Mars gravity.
**Live MRO Orbit insertion thread*
“This is a great milestone to have accomplished, but it’s just one of many milestones before we can open the champagne,” said Colleen Hartman, deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
“Once we are in the prime science orbit, the spacecraft will perform observations of the atmosphere, surface, and subsurface of Mars in unprecedented detail.”
Now in a 35 hour orbit of the planet, MRO will slowly re-fine its orbit to achieve a two hour path around Mars. In around five months time, the spacecraft will begin its primary mission.
MRO will then begin a 25 month long observation mission, which will include a variety of scientific instruments and cameras – which will help evaluate potential landing sites for future manned Mars missions.
‘We’re here to place the most capable orbiter ever put around another planet – around Mars,’ said Doug McCuistion, Mars Exploration Program Director. ‘It’s a little bit nerve-wracking, even though it’s exciting. This is a big event and not a simple activity.
‘After 300 million miles plus, we’re finally there.
McCuistion also pre-empted the science that will be explored via MRO.
‘I can’t wait for the scientists – in a few months – to be able to take control of the orbiter to see what we can find,’ he added. ‘They are going to be like a bunch of kids with a new microscope.