[meteorite-list] NASA Radio on Europe's New Mars Orbiter Aces Relay Test
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2016 16:03:09 -0800 (PST)
NASA Radio on Europe's New Mars Orbiter Aces Relay Test
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
November 29, 2016
Data from each of the two rovers active on Mars reached Earth last week
in the successful first relay test of a NASA radio aboard Europe's new
Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO).
The transmissions from NASA rovers Opportunity and Curiosity, received
by one of the twin Electra radios on the orbiter on Nov. 22, mark a strengthening
of the international telecommunications network supporting Mars exploration.
The orbiter's main radio for communications with Earth subsequently relayed
onward to Earth the data received by Electra.
The European Space Agency's (ESA's) ExoMars/Trace Gas Orbiter reached
Mars on Oct. 19, 2016. As planned, its initial orbit shape is highly elliptical,
ranging from as far as 60,000 miles (98,000 kilometers) above the surface
to less than 200 miles (less than 310 kilometers). Each loop takes 4.2
days to complete.
Frequent use of TGO's relay capability to support Mars rover operations
is planned to begin more than a year from now. That's after the orbiter
finishes adjusting its orbit to a near-circular path about 250 miles (400
kilometers) above Mars' surface. Meanwhile, four other active Mars orbiters
also carry radios that can provide relay service for missions on the surface
of Mars. The two active rovers routinely send data homeward via NASA orbiters
Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
"The arrival of ESA's Trace Gas Orbiter at Mars, with its NASA-provided
Electra relay payload on board, represents a significant step forward
in our Mars relay capabilities," said Chad Edwards, manager of the Mars
Relay Network Office within the Mars Exploration Program at NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "In concert with our three
existing NASA orbiters and ESA's earlier Mars Express orbiter, we now
have a truly international Mars relay network that will greatly increase
the amount of data that future Mars landers and rovers can return from
the surface of the Red Planet."
NASA is on an ambitious journey to Mars that will include sending humans
to the Red Planet. Current and future robotic spacecraft are leading the
way and will prepare an infrastructure in advance for human missions.
The JPL-designed Electra radios include special features for relaying
data from a rover or stationary lander to an orbiter passing overhead.
Relay of information from Mars-surface craft to Mars orbiters, then from
the Mars orbiters to Earth, enables receiving much more data from the
surface missions than would be possible with a direct-to-Earth radio link
from the rovers or landers.
"We already have almost 13 years' experience using ESA's Mars Express
as an on-call backup for data relay from active Mars rovers, and TGO will
greatly expand this to routine science-data relay," said Michel Denis,
TGO flight director at ESA's European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt,
Germany. "In 2020, TGO will extend this relay support to ESA's ExoMars
rover and the Russian Surface Platform, an important capability together
with its science mission that enhances the international data network
As an example of Electra capabilities, during a relay session between
an Electra on the surface and one on an orbiter, the radios can maximize
data volume by actively adjusting the data rate to be slower when the
orbiter is near the horizon from the surface robot's perspective, faster
when it is overhead.
Curiosity and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter already use Electra technology
to relay data. NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft,
in orbit since 2014, also carries an Electra radio.
Due to improvements in the newest Electra radios and reduced interference
levels, TGO's relay radios are expected to offer relay performance about
double that of MRO's Electra.
TGO's main X-band radio uses a dish antenna 87 inches (2.2 meters) in
diameter to communicate with Earth-based antenna networks operated by
ESA, NASA and Russia.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena,
manages the Curiosity, Opportunity, MRO and Odyssey missions, and NASA's
role in the ESA ExoMars program for the NASA Science Mission Directorate,
For more about ESA's ExoMars program, including TGO, visit:
For more information about NASA's journey to Mars, visit:
News Media Contact
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.w.webster at jpl.nasa.gov
Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
dwayne.c.brown at nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo at nasa.gov
Received on Mon 19 Dec 2016 07:03:09 PM PST