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26-Oct-01 | Mars Odyssey reaches orbit

On Tuesday, 23 October 2001, 2001 Mars Odyssey successfully entered orbit around the Red Planet.

At about 02:26 (UTC, 24 October; all times are Earth-received, not Mars local), MO lit up its main engine for a duration of about 19 minutes. Just over 10 minutes later the spacecraft passed behind Mars from Earth’s perspective, and all contact was lost as expected. The engine shut down on time, but it wasn’t until 02:56 that MO passed out of occultation and the Deep Space Network reacquired its signal. Controllers were relieved to discover that all events in the complicated manoeuvre occurred on time, and Mars Odyssey was found to be in a highly elliptic, 160 by 15,000 nautical mile orbit with a duration of 18 hours, 36 minutes.

Aerobraking will begin on Friday, 26 October, and is expected to take about 3 months to put MO in a circular, approximately 220 nautical mile orbit. Mapping operations will then commence and continue for an estimated 917 Earth days, around 1-1/3 Martian years.

With the announcement last week of NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin’s pending retirement, all eyes are on Mars Odyssey as it strives to vindicate the “Faster, Better, Cheaper” policy that Goldin championed during his tenure. NASA’s two previous Mars missions, Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander/Deep Space 2, were both lost on arrival at the Red Planet. “Danny G.” was on hand Tuesday at JPL to lead the post-arrival news conference regardless of outcome, and was obviously pleased to have good news to report. Tuesday’s encounter was the riskiest phase of its mission, but MO still has to survive its tricky aerobraking phase before it will return any substantial science. In addition, the flight team has yet to resolve issues with the navigational star tracker and one of the primary instruments, the Martian radiation environment experiment (MARIE).

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