The camera that will take thousands of the sharpest, most detailed pictures
of Mars ever produced from an orbiting spacecraft was delivered today for
installation on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will be launched on Aug. 10, 2005,
carrying a payload of six science instruments and a communications relay
package to boost the ongoing exploration of the red planet.

The largest science instrument on the spacecraft will be the University of
Arizona’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), a 65
kilogram (145 pound) camera with a half-meter (20-inch) diameter primary

HiRISE has been delivered for installation on the MRO spacecraft at
Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, Colo. Ball Aerospace &
Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., designed, built and tested the $35
million HiRISE camera.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the MRO
mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C.

HiRISE will produce ultra-sharp photographs over 6 kilometer (3.5 mile)
swaths of the martian landscape with a best imaging at 25 centimeters (10
inches) per pixel, said Alfred S. McEwen of the UA’s Lunar and Planetary
Laboratory, principal investigator for HiRISE.

“By combining a fine imaging scale (25 centimeters to 32 centimeters a
pixel, or 10 inches to 12.5 inches a pixel) and high signal-to-noise ratio,
it is possible to resolve features as small as one meter (about 40 inches)
wide, a scale currently well-studied only by landers,” McEwen said. “HiRISE
will get such views over any selected region of Mars, providing a bridge
between orbital remote sensing and landed missions.” Mission scientists
will combine stereo image pairs to produce detailed maps of the topography
and combine images taken with filters to produce false-color images.

HiRISE will study deposits and landforms created by geologic and climatic
processes, and it will help scientists assess future Mars mission landing

(The next Mars lander will be NASA’s first Scout mission, called “Phoenix,”
scheduled for launch in 2007. Peter Smith of UA’s Lunar and Planetary Lab
heads the Phoenix mission, the first mission to Mars being led by an
academic institution.)

“Ball Aerospace has done a fantastic job building an instrument that meets
our challenging performance requirements,” McEwen said. “The HiRISE camera
can collect the equivalent of about a thousand megapixel images in just
three seconds.”

“With the delivery of the HiRISE hardware, team activities now shift to the
UA and Lockheed Martin,” McEwen said. “We’ll do a series of flight-like
tests before the spacecraft gets shipped to Kennedy Space Center next
spring.” In these operational readiness tests, data from the camera on the
spacecraft at Lockheed Martin will be sent to NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., then to the HiRISE Operations Center
(HiROC)on the UA campus in Tucson.

“Rather than data coming down from the Deep Space Network, which will
happen once the spacecraft is actually orbiting Mars, we’ll command
HiRISE as it sits in a clean room at Lockheed Martin,” Eric Eliason said.

Eliason manages activities at HiROC, which is located in the Lunar and
Planetary Lab’s Sonett Building.

A dozen people currently staff HiROC. That number will double when the
primary mission begins in 2006. Their tasks include writing command
software, planning observations, uplinking commands, downlinking data,
processing raw data into useful images and monitoring the instrument,
Eliason said.

HiRISE co-investigators are:

  • Candice Hansen, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, deputy principal investigator
  • Alan Delamere, Delamere Support Systems
  • Eric Eliason, UA
  • Virginia Gulick, NASA Ames/SETI Institute
  • Ken Herkenhoff, USGS Flagstaff
  • Nathan Bridges, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Nick Thomas, University of Bern (Switzerland)
  • Randolph Kirk, USGS Flagstaff
  • John Grant, Smithsonian Institution
  • Laszlo Keszthelyi, USGS Flagstaff
  • Mike Mellon, University of Colorado
  • Steve Squyres, Cornell University
  • Cathy Weitz, Planetary Science Institute (Tucson)

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter scheduled for launch in August 2005 will be
captured in Mars orbit by a “Mars orbit insertion” maneuver in March 2006.

Initially, the spacecraft will fly around Mars in a highly elliptical
orbit. The orbit will become more circular over the next several months
by a technique called “aerobraking.” On each of its close swings by Mars in
elliptical orbit, the spacecraft is low enough that it skims the surface of
Mars’ atmosphere, creating drag on the spacecraft. The orbiter’s path
around the planet becomes more circular on each successive planet flyby.

HiRISE will begin taking photographs when the spacecraft is in a circular
orbit, in November 2006. The primary science mission is for two years, or
slightly more than a martian year. The orbiter can also serve as a
telecommunications relay link for landers launched to Mars in 2007 and
2009. Nominally, the orbiter mission ends Dec. 31, 2010.

Contact Information

Alfred S. McEwen 520-270-0701 (cell)
Eric Eliason 520-626-0764

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