NASA Plans for 1996 Mars orbiter mission

This information comes from various NASA and JPL press releases. We'll put more information here when it becomes available.


RELEASE: 94-20

NASA will continue to explore Mars with a new exploration strategy in fiscal year 1995. The Mars Surveyor program calls for start of development of a small orbiter that will be launched in November 1996 to study the surface of the red planet.

The Mars Surveyor orbiter will lay the foundation for a series of missions to Mars in a decade-long program of Mars exploration. The missions will take advantage of launch opportunities about every 2 years as Mars comes into alignment with Earth.

NASA requested $77 million in development costs in FY 1995 for the new Mars orbiter. The announcement was made during NASA's press briefing on the 1995 budget request. The 1995 fiscal year runs from Oct. 1, 1994, to Sept. 30, 1995.

The Mars Surveyor program will be conducted within the constraints of a cost ceiling of approximately $100 million per year. The orbiter will be small enough to be launched on a Delta expendable launch vehicle and will carry roughly half of the science payload that flew on Mars Observer, which was lost on Aug. 21, 1993. The specific instruments will be selected later.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., will issue a request for proposals to industry in mid-March to solicit potential spacecraft designs. Selection of a contractor to build the spacecraft will be made by July 1.

NASA envisions an orbiter/lander pair of spacecraft as the next in this series of robotic missions to Mars.

The orbiter planned for launch in 1998 would be even smaller than the initial Mars Surveyor orbiter and carry the remainder of the Mars Observer science instruments. It would act as a communications relay satellite for a companion lander, launched the same year, and other landers in the future, such as the Russian Mars '96 lander. The U.S. Pathfinder lander, set to land on Mars in 1997, will operate independently of the Mars orbiter.

The 1998 orbiter/lander spacecraft would be small enough to be launched on an expendable launch vehicle about half the size and cost of the Delta launch vehicle.

JPL will manage mission design and spacecraft operations of the Mars Surveyor for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.


The Mars orbiter will be a polar-orbiting spacecraft at Mars whose mission is to fulfill the Mars science objectives of the failed Mars Observer mission.

Launched with a Delta II vehicle from Cape Canaveral in November 1996, the spacecraft will cruise 10 months to Mars, where it will be initially inserted into an elliptical capture orbit. During the following 4-month period, thruster firings and aerobraking techniques will be used to reach the nearly circular, polar mapping orbit with a 2-hour period. Mapping operations are planned to begin in late January 1998.

Aerobraking, which uses atmospheric drag forces on the spacecraft to remove orbital energy, provides a means of minimizing the amount of fuel required to reach the low Mars orbit.

The spacecraft will carry a subset of the Mars Observer instrument payload and will use these instruments to acquire data of Mars for a full Martian year (2 Earth years). The spacecraft then will be used as a data relay station for signals from U.S. and international landers and low altitude probes for an additional 3 years.

The orbiter is the first mission of a new, decade-long program of robotic exploration of Mars -- the Mars Surveyor Program. This will be an aggressive series of orbiters and landers to be launched in every Mars opportunity. It will be affordable, costing about $100 million per year; engaging to the public, with global and close-up images of Mars; have high scientific value; employ a distributed risk strategy so that no single element loss will result in the total loss of data planned in a given opportunity; and use significant advanced technologies.

Landers launched in future years -- in 1998 and 2001 -- will capitalize on the experiences of the Pathfinder lander mission to be launched in 1996. Small orbiters launched in the 1998 and 2001 opportunities will carry the remainder of the Mars Observer payload instruments and will serve as data relay stations.

The spacecraft will be acquired from industry through a competitive procurement. The science payload will be provided by government- furnished equipment built as copies of the instruments that flew on Mars Observer. JPL will manage the project for NASA's Solar System Exploration Division and will provide the mission design, navigation and will conduct the mission operations. Tracking and data acquisition will be provided by a 34-meter subnet of the Deep Space Network.

February 1994