Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Completes 60,000 Loops around Red Planet

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been in the Martian orbit for 13 years, and just completed 60,000 trips around the planet.

An artist’s concept of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image credit: NASA.

An artist’s concept of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image credit: NASA.

Since entering orbit on March 10, 2006, MRO has been collecting daily science about the planet’s surface and atmosphere, including detailed views with its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera (HiRISE).

HiRISE is powerful enough to see surface features the size of a dining room table from 186 miles (300 km) above the surface.

On average, MRO takes 112 minutes to circle Mars, whipping around at about 2 miles per second (3.4 km per second).

“Mars is our laboratory. After more than a decade, we’ve collected enough data to formulate and test hypotheses to see how they change or hold up over time,” said MRO deputy project scientist Dr. Leslie Tamppari, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter by the numbers. Image credit: NASA.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter by the numbers. Image credit: NASA.

MRO is watching the daily weather and probing the subsurface for ice, providing data that can influence the designs of future missions that will take humans to Mars.

But the orbiter isn’t just sending back its own science; it serves in a network of relays that beam data back to Earth from NASA’s Mars rovers and landers.

Later this month, the spacecraft will hit another milestone: it will have relayed 1 Terabit of data, largely from NASA’s Curiosity rover.

If you’ve ever enjoyed one of Curiosity’s selfies or sprawling landscapes or wondered at its scientific discoveries, MRO probably helped make them possible.

“MRO has given scientists and the public a new perspective of Mars,” said MRO project manager Dr. Dan Johnston, also from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“We’ve also supported NASA’s fleet of Mars surface missions, allowing them to send their images and discoveries back to scientists on Earth.”

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