Tuscon AZ (SPX) Sep 10, 2007
A camera flying aboard The University of Arizona-led Phoenix Mars Lander took its first picture during cruise and sent it back to Earth on Sept. 6. The lander's Robotic Arm Camera took the photo looking into the Robotic Arm's scoop. Both instruments are encased in a protection biobarrier, to ensure no Earth organisms are carried to Mars.
"It is a nice, clean picture with good sharp focus. One of these days it will be filled with Martian dirt," said Peter Smith, Phoenix principal investigator at the UA. "We have special pride in this, as it is a UA-German product."
The Robotic Arm Camera took an image of the Robotic Arm scoop using its red LED (Light-Emitting Diode) lamp. Human eyes see this image only in shades of gray, so the picture has been enhanced in false color to better represent what the camera sees.
Images from the Robotic Arm Camera, one of five imaging instruments on the lander, will be the only pictures taken and returned to Earth until Phoenix approaches and lands on Mars on May 25, 2008. Additional images will be taken by the Robotic Arm Camera later in the cruise stage.
The Robotic Arm Camera check was one of a series of instrument tests being completed as Phoenix cruises toward the red planet. Phoenix was about 57 million miles from Earth when the image was sent back. It is traveling at 76,000 miles per hour in relation to the sun.
On Mars, the Robotic Arm will dig trenches, scoop up soil and water-ice samples and deliver them to several instruments on the lander's deck for chemical and geological analysis.
The Robotic Arm Camera, built by the UA and Max Planck Institute, is attached to the Robotic Arm just above the scoop and will provide close-up, full-color images of the Martian surface, prospective soil and water-ice samples, samples collected in the scoop before delivery to the lander's science deck, and of the floor and side walls of the trenches. Phoenix's Robotic Arm was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the arm's scoop was manufactured by Honeybee Robotics of New York.
Phoenix launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on Aug. 4. It will fly to a site farther north than any previous Mars landing.
The solar-powered lander will robotically dig to underground ice and will run laboratory tests assessing whether the site could have ever been hospitable to microbial life. The instruments will also look for clues about the history of the water in the ice. They will monitor arctic weather as northern Mars' summer progresses toward fall, until solar energy fades and the mission ends.
The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of The University of Arizona, Tucson, with project management at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, Denver. International contributions are provided by the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the Universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; the Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.
The deep-space cooperation is just one more example of the two agencies working together to share expertise, rationalise resources and boost the scientific value of their missions.
At NASA's request ESA will support the Phoenix mission by monitoring the lander during its Entry Descent and Landing (EDL). The support requires a great deal of planning on behalf of the Mars Express control team and other specialists at ESOC, ESA's Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
The Mission Control Team must merge an already planned orbit manoeuvre with an additional step that permits support to Phoenix while maintaining Mars Express' planned scientific observations of the planet. These manoeuvres, although the landing is only scheduled for May 2008, will start as early as December 2007 in order to minimise fuel expenditure. "The earlier we start the orbit adjustments, the more fuel we are able to save," says Michel Denis, Mars Express Spacecraft Operations Manager.
Both agencies benefit from Mars cooperation
For Mars Express, NASA was instrumental in helping ESA undertake Europe's first-ever mission to another planet. Due to the new nature of this mission, Flight Dynamics teams from ESOC and NASA's JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) collaborated to validate the software for interplanetary navigation.
NASA also supported the mission's critical launch and early orbit phase (LEOP) with ground station coverage, and provided highly accurate ground tracking during the mission's 2003 interplanetary cruise using the Delta-DOR technique, which ESA only implemented later in 2005.
The orbit insertion of Mars Express was also supported by NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) of ground stations, equipped with giant 70-metre antennas, which verified signals and communicated with the spacecraft.
NASA, as Co-Principal Investigator on the MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) experiment, later was involved when MARSIS experienced difficulty in fully deploying its boom antennas. An integrated team of US and European engineers worked together to devise a solution; MARSIS has since played a key role in confirming water on and beneath the surface of Mars.
"For the past 3-1/2 years, the NASA Deep Space Network of antennas on Earth has allowed ESA to receive an increased amount of data from Mars, improving the mission value," says Denis. And once Phoenix lands on Mars next year, ESA hopes to be able to return part of this favour.
Mars Express may communicate with NASA's lander
Cooperation between the two agencies has also been close for other Mars missions.
In 2004 and 2005, Mars Express demonstrated the ability to command and recover data from NASA's rovers Spirit and Opportunity operating on the Red Planet. After the rovers recently survived a heavy dust storm season, a new communication testing campaign started with Mars Express. It provides a true-scale simulation of the Phoenix Entry, Descent and Landing operations, and prepares Mars Express for possible backup relay operations of Phoenix data.
"For both agencies, mutual support brings many benefits and increases mission flexibility. Experience gained and lessons learnt from cross support at Mars can lay the foundations to build future international cooperation for other planetary missions," says Denis.
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