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Forum:Satellites - Robotic Probes
Topic:NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft orbiting Mars
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Odyssey's longevity enables continued science, including the monitoring of seasonal changes on Mars from year to year and the most detailed maps ever made of most of the planet. In 2002, the spacecraft detected hydrogen just below the surface throughout Mars' high-latitude regions. The deduction that the hydrogen is in frozen water prompted NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander mission, which confirmed the theory in 2008. Odyssey also carried the first experiment sent to Mars specifically to prepare for human missions, and found radiation levels around the planet from solar flares and cosmic rays are two to three times higher than around Earth.

Odyssey also has served as a communication relay, handling most of the data sent home by Phoenix and NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Odyssey became the middle link for continuous observation of Martian weather by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

Odyssey will support the 2012 landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and surface operations of that mission. MSL will assess whether its landing area has had environmental conditions favorable for microbial life and preserving evidence about whether life has existed there. The rover will carry the largest, most advanced set of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the Martian surface.

"The Mars program clearly demonstrates that world-class science coupled with sound and creative engineering equals success and longevity," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Other recent NASA spacecraft at Mars include the Mars Global Surveyor that began orbiting the Red Planet in 1997. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers landed on Mars in January 2004. They have been exploring for six years, far surpassing their original 90-day mission. Phoenix landed May 25, 2008, farther north than any previous spacecraft to the planet's surface. The mission's biggest surprise was the discovery of perchlorate, an oxidizing chemical on Earth that is food for some microbes, but potentially toxic for others. The solar-powered lander completed its three-month mission and kept working until sunlight waned two months later. MRO arrived at Mars in 2006 on a search for evidence that water persisted on the planet's surface for a long period of time.

Odyssey is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. JPL and Lockheed Martin collaborate on operating the spacecraft.

Robert Pearlman
Odyssey resumes work after 'B-side' switch

NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter, already the longest-working spacecraft ever sent to Mars, has successfully switched to using its redundant computer, a system that has not been used since before its launch in 2001.

Odyssey relayed data to Earth late Sunday (Nov. 11, 2012) that it received from NASA's Opportunity rover on Mars using the orbiter's fresh "B-side" radio for UHF (ultra-high frequency) communications. In plans for this week are relays for the newest Mars rover, Curiosity, and resumption of Odyssey's own scientific observations.

"The side-swap has gone well. All the subsystems that we are using for the first time are performing as intended," said Odyssey Project Manager Gaylon McSmith of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Like many spacecraft, Odyssey carries a pair of redundant main computers, so that a backup is available if the other fails. Odyssey's "A-side" computer and "B-side" computer each have several other redundant subsystems linked to just that computer.

The Odyssey team decided to switch to the B-side computer to begin using its inertial measurement unit. This gyroscope-equipped device senses changes in the spacecraft's orientation, providing important information for control of pointing the antenna, solar arrays and instruments.

"We have been on the A side for more than 11 years. Everything on the A side still works, but the inertial measurement unit on that side has been showing signs of wearing out," said Odyssey Mission Manager Chris Potts at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We will swap to the B side on Nov. 5 so that we still have some life available in reserve on the A side."

In many potential problem situations, the Odyssey's autonomous fault-protection response would switch the spacecraft from the active side to the other side. By preserving the capability of switching back to a fully functional A side, the mission continues to have the available protection of switching sides temporarily and correcting any fixable anomaly on the B side.

"The spare inertial measurement unit is factory new, last operated on the day before launch," Potts said.

Odyssey launched April 7, 2001, began orbiting Mars on Oct. 24 of that year, began systematic science observations of Mars in early 2002, and broke the previous record for longest-working Mars probe in December 2010.

Odyssey's longevity enables continued science, including monitoring the seasonal changes on Mars from year to year, and continued relay service.

"It is testimony to the excellent design of this spacecraft and operation of this mission in partnership with Lockheed Martin that we have brand-new major components available to begin using after more than 11 years at Mars," McSmith said.

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