Mars Global Surveyor
Nation: U.S. (69)
Objective(s): Mars orbit
Spacecraft Mass: 1,062.1 kg
Mission Design and Management: NASA JPL
Launch Vehicle: Delta 7925 (no. D239)
Launch Date and Time: 7 November 1996 / 17:00:49 UT
Launch Site: ESMC / launch complex 17A
1) MOC Mars orbital camera
2) MOLA Mars orbital laser altimeter
3) TES thermal emission spectrometer
4) MAG/ER magnetometer/electron reflectometer
5) RS radio science experiment
6) MR Mars relay antenna for future spacecraft
Results: Mars Global Surveyor was the first spacecraft in NASA's new Mars Surveyor program that was designed to inaugurate a new generation of American space probes to explore Mars every twenty-six months from 1996 to 2005. The Mars Surveyor program (formulated in 1994) was intended to economize costs and maximize returns by involving a single industrial partner with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to design, build, and deliver a flightworthy vehicle for Mars every two years.
The Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft carried five instruments similar to those carried by the lost Mars Observer probe that fell silent in 1993. After midcourse corrections on 21 November 1996 and 20 March 1997, Mars Global Surveyor entered orbit around Mars on 12 September 1997 after engine ignition at 01:17 UT. Initial orbital parameters were 258 x 54,021 kilometers.
Commencement of its planned two-year mission was delayed because one of its two solar panels (-Y) had not fully deployed soon after launch, prompting mission planners to reconfigure the aerobraking process required to place the vehicle in its intended orbit. The solar panels were designed to act as atmospheric brakes to change orbit. The modified aerobraking maneuver altered the planned orbit from an afternoon pass over the equator to a nighttime pass and also delayed the mission by a year and at the time seem to have shortened its projected lifetime.
The spacecraft's revised aerobraking maneuvers were finally completed on 4 February 1999 with a major burn from its main engine.A subsequent firing on 19 February finally put Mars Global Surveyor into a Sun-synchronous orbit, and on 9 March 1999, its mapping mission formally began.
Despite the early problems, Mars Global Surveyor began to send back impressive data and images of Mars during its movement to its new orbit. The spacecraft tracked the evolution of a dust storm, gathered information on the Martian terrain, found compelling evidence indicating the presence of liquid water at or near the surface (formally announced by NASA on 22 June 2000), and photographed the infamous "face on Mars" that some believed was an artificial formation.
During its mission, the Mars Global Surveyor also produced the first three-dimensional profiles of Mars's north pole using laser altimeter readings. By mid-2000, the spacecraft had taken tens of thousands of high-resolution photos of the Red Planet.
Operations were expected to end by 31 January 2001, but the good health of onboard systems allowed scientists to continue the mission. Contact was eventually lost with the orbiter on 14 Nov. 2006, nine years and 52 days after it entered orbit.
Editor's Note: This mission profile was originally published in Deep Space Chronicle: A Chronology of Deep Space and Planetary Probes 1958-2000, by Asif A. Siddiqi, NASA Monographs in Aerospace History No. 24. The text has been modified to reflect events that happened after the book was published in June 2002.