NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will today start preparations for the arrival of the next Mars lander, InSight, next year.
A planned 77-second firing of six intermediate-size thrusters later today will adjust the orbit timing of the spacecraft so it will be in position to receive radio transmissions from InSight as the newcomer descends through the Martian atmosphere and touches down on 28 September 2016.
“Without making this orbit change manoeuvre, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter would be unable to hear from InSight during the landing, but this will put us in the right place at the right time,” said MRO Project Manager Dan Johnston of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
The orbiter will record InSight’s transmissions for later playback to Earth as a record of each event during the critical minutes of InSight’s arrival at Mars, just as MRO did for the landings of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover three years ago, and NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander in 2008.
InSight will examine the deep interior of Mars for clues about the formation and early evolution of all rocky planets, including Earth.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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