Contact: Mary Hardin

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has selected Ball Aerospace
& Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo., for negotiations as the
spacecraft contractor on the Mars Micromission — the first in a
series of small, low-cost piggyback missions to send science
probes, instruments and communication relay satellites to the red

The contract will be negotiated over the next two months and
is contingent on funding approval by NASA for the Mars
Micromission Project. This decision is expected by February

The Mars Micromission Project is planning to launch a series
of a small 220-kilogram (485-pound) low-cost spacecraft to Mars
as piggyback payloads on the French Ariane 5 rocket when it
launches commercial communication satellites into an Earth-based
geosynchronous transfer orbit. From Earth orbit, the Mars
Micromission spacecraft will use on-board propulsion and an
innovative trajectory involving Lunar and Earth flybys to send
the spacecraft on the proper trajectory to Mars. The launch
services will be provided through the NASA partnership with the
French space agency, Centre National D’Etudes Spatiales (CNES),
at no cost to NASA. Launch of the first Mars Micromission
spacecraft is planned for spring of 2003 from the Ariane launch
facilities in Kourou, French Guiana.

The design of the Mars Micromission spacecraft is based on a
common spacecraft bus concept, which can be configured to deliver
one or more science probes to the Martian atmosphere or carry
extra propellant for orbit insertion into Mars orbit. The 2003
Mars Micromission would be a communication/navigation orbiter,
the first of a constellation of Mars-orbiting satellites that
would make up the Mars Network. The Mars
Network is intended to dramatically increase the data returned to
Earth from future landed or orbiting Mars missions by providing
efficient relay communications, while also providing navigation
capabilities like those of the Global Positioning Satellite

“The combination of the common spacecraft design and the
piggyback launch is essential to achieve the Mars Micromission
Project goals of frequent low-cost access to Mars,” said David
Lehman, the JPL project manager for the Mars Micromission. “We
plan to be able to launch at least two Mars Micromission
spacecraft during every Mars opportunity, about every two years.
About half of these spacecraft are expected to carry out focused
science investigations selected through competition, while the
other half will be used to build up the Mars Network of
communication relay and navigation satellites.”

The Mars Micromission Project is managed by JPL for NASA’s
Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C., as part of the ongoing
Mars Surveyor Program. The purpose of the Mars Micromission is to
increase the quality and quantity of the science and technology
data from the Mars Surveyor Program. JPL is a division of the
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.