Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) was an American robotic space probe developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and launched November 1996. MGS was a global mapping mission that examined the entire planet, from the ionosphere down through the atmosphere to the surface. As part of the larger Mars Exploration Program, Mars Global Surveyor performed atmospheric monitoring for sister orbiters during aerobraking, and helped Mars rovers and lander missions by identifying potential landing sites and relaying surface telemetry.
|Mission type||Mars orbiter|
|Operator||NASA / JPL|
|Mission duration||25 years, 10 months and 20 days (in orbit)|
|Launch mass||1,030.5 kg (2,272 lb)|
|Start of mission|
|Launch date||7 November 1996, 17:00UTC|
|Rocket||Delta II 7925|
|Launch site||Cape Canaveral LC-17A|
|End of mission|
|Last contact||2 November 2006|
|Decay date||2050 (planned)|
|Semi-major axis||3,769 km (2,342 mi)|
|Periareion altitude||372.8 km (231.6 mi)|
|Apoareion altitude||436.5 km (271.2 mi)|
|Epoch||10 December 2004|
|Orbital insertion||11 September 1997, 01:17 UTC|
MSD 43972 16:29 AMT
It completed its primary mission in January 2001 and was in its third extended mission phase when, on 2 November 2006, the spacecraft failed to respond to messages and commands. A faint signal was detected three days later which indicated that it had gone into safe mode. Attempts to recontact the spacecraft and resolve the problem failed, and NASA officially ended the mission in January 2007. MGS remains in a stable near-polar circular orbit at about 450 km altitude and, as of 1996, was expected to crash onto the surface of the planet at some point after 2047.
Mars Global Surveyor achieved the following science objectives during its primary mission:
Mars Global Surveyor also achieved the following goals of its extended mission:
On 2 November 2006, NASA lost contact with the spacecraft after commanding it to adjust its solar panels. Several days passed before a faint signal was received indicating that the spacecraft had entered safe mode and was awaiting further instructions.
On 21 and 22 November 2006, MGS failed to relay communications to the Opportunity rover on the surface of Mars. In response to this complication, Mars Exploration Program manager Fuk Li stated, "Realistically, we have run through the most likely possibilities for re-establishing communication, and we are facing the likelihood that the amazing flow of scientific observations from Mars Global Surveyor is over."
On 13 April 2007, NASA announced the loss of the spacecraft was caused by a flaw in a parameter update to the spacecraft's system software. The spacecraft was designed to hold two identical copies of the system software for redundancy and error checking. Subsequent updates to the software encountered a human error when two independent operators updated separate copies with differing parameters. This was followed by a corrective update that unknowingly included a memory fault which resulted in the loss of the spacecraft.
Originally, the spacecraft was intended to observe Mars for 1 Martian year (approximately 2 Earth years). However, based on the vast amount of valuable science data returned, NASA extended the mission three times. MGS remains in a stable near-polar circular orbit at about 450 km altitude, and was expected to crash onto the surface of the planet at some point after about 2047 at the time of its original launch, having by then spent fifty years orbiting the red planet. This is to prevent contamination of the Martian surface with any germs that may be stuck to the spacecraft.
The spacecraft, fabricated at the Lockheed Martin Astronautics plant in Denver, is a rectangular-shaped box with wing-like projections (solar panels) extending from opposite sides. When fully loaded with propellant at the time of launch, the spacecraft weighed 1,060 kg (2,337 lb). Most of its mass lies in the box-shaped module occupying the center portion of the spacecraft. This center module is made of two smaller rectangular modules stacked on top of each other, one of which is called the equipment module and holds the spacecraft's electronics, science instruments, and the 1750A mission computer. The other module, called the propulsion module, houses its rocket engines and propellant tanks. The Mars Global Surveyor mission cost about $154 million to develop and build and $65 million to launch. Mission operations and data analysis cost approximately $20 million/year.
The spacecraft was launched from a smaller Delta II rocket, necessitating restrictions in spacecraft weight. In order to achieve the near-circular orbit required for the mission while conserving propellant, the team designed a series of aerobraking maneuvers. Aerobraking had been successfully attempted by the Magellan mission at Venus, but the first complete test of the new procedure was to be carried out by MGS.
Initially, MGS was placed in a highly elliptical orbit that took 45 hours to complete. The orbit had a periapsis of 262 km (163 mi) above the northern hemisphere, and an apoapsis of 54,026 km (33,570 mi) above the southern hemisphere. This would be subsequently be adjusted into its circular science orbit.
After orbital insertion, MGS performed a series of orbit changes to lower the periapsis of its orbit into the upper fringes of the Martian atmosphere at an altitude of about 110 km (68 mi). During every atmospheric pass, the spacecraft slowed down because of atmospheric resistance. This slowing caused the spacecraft to lose altitude on its next pass through the orbit's apoapsis. MGS had planned to use this aerobraking technique over a period of four months to lower the high point of its orbit from 54,000 km (33,554 mi) to altitudes near 450 km (280 mi).
About one month into the mission, it was discovered that air pressure from the planet's atmosphere caused one of the spacecraft's two solar panels to bend backwards. The panel in question had incurred a small amount of damage shortly after launch, the extent of which did not become apparent until subjected to atmospheric forces. MGS had to be raised out of the atmosphere to prevent further damage to the solar panel and a new mission plan had to be developed.
From May to November 1998, aerobraking was temporarily suspended to allow the orbit to drift into the proper position with respect to the Sun and enable optimal use of the solar panels. Although data collection during aerobraking was not in the original mission plan, all science instruments remained functional and acquired vast amounts of data during this "unexpected bonus period of observation". The team was able to evaluate more information about the atmosphere over a range of times rather than the anticipated fixed times of 0200 and 1400, as well as collect data during three close encounters with Phobos.
Finally, from November 1998 to March 1999, aerobraking resumed and shrank the high point of the orbit down to 450 km (280 mi). At this altitude, MGS circled Mars once every two hours. Aerobraking was scheduled to terminate at the same time the orbit drifted into its proper position with respect to the Sun. In the desired orientation for mapping operations, the spacecraft always crossed the day-side equator at 14:00 (local Mars time) moving from south to north. This geometry was selected to enhance the total quality of the science return.
The spacecraft circled Mars once every 117.65 minutes at an average altitude of 378 km (235 mi). The nearly polar orbit (inclination = 93°) which is almost perfectly circular, moved from the south pole to the north pole in just under an hour. The altitude was chosen to make the orbit Sun-synchronous, so that all images that were taken by the spacecraft of the same surface features on different dates were taken under identical lighting conditions. After each orbit, the spacecraft viewed the planet 28.62° to the west because Mars had rotated underneath it. In effect, it was always 14:00 for MGS as it moved from one time zone to the next exactly as fast as the Sun. After seven sols and 88 orbits, the spacecraft would approximately retrace its previous path, with an offset of 59 km to the east. This ensured eventual full coverage of the entire surface.
In its extended mission, MGS did much more than study the planet directly beneath it. It commonly performed rolls and pitches to acquire images off its nadir track. The roll maneuvers, called ROTOs (Roll Only Targeting Opportunities), rolled the spacecraft left or right from its ground track to shoot images as much as 30° from nadir. It was possible for a pitch maneuver to be added to compensate for the relative motion between the spacecraft and the planet. This was called a CPROTO (Compensation Pitch Roll Targeting Opportunity), and allowed for some very high resolution imaging by the onboard MOC (Mars Orbiting Camera).
In addition to this, MGS could shoot pictures of other orbiting bodies, such as other spacecraft and the moons of Mars. In 1998 it imaged what was later called the Phobos monolith, found in MOC Image 55103.
After analyzing hundreds of high-resolution pictures of the Martian surface taken by the spacecraft, a team of researchers found that weathering and winds on the planet create landforms, especially sand dunes, remarkably similar to those in some deserts on Earth.
Other discoveries from this mission are:
Buttes and layers in Aeolis quadrangle, as seen by MGS.
Lava flows were once covered over, now these platy flows are being exposed.
Crater was buried, now it is being exhumed by erosion. Image located in Ismenius Lacus quadrangle.
The northern hemisphere appears smooth, but the craters are covered over. Here, a group of craters are partially exposed. Image located in Cebrenia quadrangle.
Close up image of Phaethontis surface taken by Mars Global Surveyor, under MOC Public Targeting Program. Pits are thought to be caused by buried ice turning into a gas.
The mantle drapes most of the area. Note the absence of boulders on the cliff face. An area that shows the edges of the mantle is circled. Image located in Ismenius Lacus quadrangle.
Mantle material, as seen by MGS.
Dust devil, as seen by MGS.
Dust devil in action showing shadow to the right. Image located in Cebrenia quadrangle.
Changes in south pole from 1999 to 2001, as seen by Mars Global Surveyor. Notice how Swiss-cheese type holes have grown in the two years.
Swiss cheese terrain, as seen by MGS. Largest mesa in image is 4 meters high.
Layers in Swiss cheese terrain. There is a bright upper layer and a darker lower layer.
Close-up view of Swiss cheese terrain. Polygonal pattern was probably formed by shallow troughs.
Ceraunius Tholus, one of many volcanoes found on Mars.
Lava flows in the Tharsis quadrangle.
Image shows both young and old lava flows from the base of Olympus Mons. The flat plain is the younger flow. The older flow has channels with levees along their edges. The presence of levees is quite common in many lava flows.
Small volcano in Phoenicis Lacus quadrangle. Image covers a distance 1.9 mi (3.1 km) long.
House-sized boulders are scattered throughout this image.
These boulders are near Ascraeus Mons, a Martian volcano. Volcanoes on Mars probably form hard boulders made up of basalt that is resistant to erosion in the current environment of Mars.
Many streaks underwent changes during the many years that MGS functioned.
Data from MGS have been used to perform a test of the general relativistic Lense–Thirring precession which consists of a small precession of the orbital plane of a test particle moving around a central, rotating mass such as a planet. The interpretation of these results has been debated.
Gullies on one wall of Kaiser Crater. Gullies usually are found in only one wall of a crater.
On 6 December 2006 NASA released photos of two craters in Terra Sirenum and Centauri Montes which appear to show the presence of flowing water on Mars at some point between 1999 and 2001. The pictures were produced by Mars Global Surveyor and are quite possibly the spacecraft's final contribution to our knowledge of Mars and the question of whether water exists on the planet.
Image of possible CO
2 geysers, taken by Mars Global Surveyor and released on 16 October 2000.
Surface of Mars taken by Mars Global Surveyor.
Surface of Mars taken by Mars Global Surveyor.
Surface of Mars taken by Mars Global Surveyor on 10 August 1999.
Banded or taffy-pull terrain in Hellas, as seen by Mars Global Surveyor. Origin is unknown at present.
Bright rays caused by impact throwing out a bright lower layer. Some bright layers contain hydrated minerals. Picture taken by Mars Global Surveyor. Location is Memnonia quadrangle.
Mars Global Surveyor photograph of Opportunity rover's landing site showing "hole in one."
Inverted channels in Aeolis quadrangle. It is believed that stream channels became raised features after coarse materials were deposited and cemented.
Delta within Eberswalde crater. The area is of great interest to geologists. Evidence of past microbial life may be found in this location.
Pavonis Mons, located on the equator in Tharsis quadrangle.