The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in 2005, is currently making a detailed survey of the Red Planet. The spacecraft's instruments include a spectrometer, radar and a high resolution camera powerful enough to pick out the six-wheeled rovers Spirit and Opportunity from orbit.
The probe is looking for evidence that liquid water persisted for a long time on the Martian surface and is studying the planet's mineral make-up and weather patterns.
Photo: The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's view of the rover Opportunity (circled) at the rim of Victoria Crater (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
An eagle eyed probe surveys Mars.
Sir Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott discuss the Mars rovers.
Sir Patrick Moore and his co-presenter Dr Chris Lintott discuss the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. At the time they spoke, Opportunity had just reached Victoria crater and had been photographed from orbit by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is a multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Mars from orbit. The US$720 million spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin under the supervision of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The mission is managed by the California Institute of Technology, at the JPL, in La Cañada Flintridge, California, for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. It was launched August 12, 2005, and attained Martian orbit on March 10, 2006. In November 2006, after five months of aerobraking, it entered its final science orbit and began its primary science phase. As MRO entered orbit it joined five other active spacecraft which were either in orbit or on the planet surface: Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Express, Mars Odyssey, and two Mars Exploration Rovers; at the time a record for the most operational spacecraft in the immediate vicinity of Mars.
MRO contains a host of scientific instruments such as cameras, spectrometers, and radar, which are used to analyze the landforms, stratigraphy, minerals, and ice of Mars. It paves the way for future spacecraft by monitoring Mars' daily weather and surface conditions, studying potential landing sites, and hosting a new telecommunications system. MRO's telecommunications system will transfer more data back to Earth than all previous interplanetary missions combined, and MRO will serve as a highly capable relay satellite for future missions.
NASA reported that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, as well as the Mars Odyssey Orbiter and MAVEN, were healthy after the Comet Siding Spring flyby on October 19, 2014.
MRO performed some useful work at the beginning of 2015 when it photographed the missing Beagle 2 lander on the surface of the planet, its having been lost for twelve years. As a result of this discovery the Mars Express/Beagle 2 mission is now known to have been partially successful rather than a complete failure as previously thought, since the lander did reach the surface and begin deploying its folded solar panels.