For 20 years, the longest-lived spacecraft on the Crimson Planet has helped find water ice, assess touchdown websites, and examine the planet’s mysterious moons.
NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft launched 20 years in the past on April 7, making it the oldest spacecraft nonetheless working on the Crimson Planet. The orbiter, which takes its identify from Arthur C. Clarke’s basic sci-fi novel “2001: A House Odyssey” (Clarke blessed its use earlier than launch), was despatched to map the composition of the Martian floor, offering a window to the previous so scientists might piece collectively how the planet advanced.
However it’s executed excess of that, uncovering troves of water ice, serving as an important communications hyperlink for different spacecraft, and serving to to pave the best way not only for safer landings but in addition future astronauts.
Right here’s a partial checklist of Odyssey’s many accomplishments.
Mapping Martian Ice
Odyssey’s 20 years of information have been a boon for researchers working to find out the place water ice is locked up on the planet. Understanding the water cycle on Mars – a planet that was as soon as a lot wetter, like Earth – gives insights into the best way it has modified over time: How does water transfer across the planet as we speak? Does the lean of the planet have an effect on the place ice is steady? Odyssey’s discoveries have helped chip away at these questions.
“Earlier than Odyssey, we didn’t know the place this water was saved on the planet,” stated Mission Scientist Jeffrey Plaut of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads the Odyssey mission. “We detected it for the primary time from orbit and later confirmed it was there utilizing the Phoenix lander.”
Shops of water ice are additionally wanted to assist astronauts survive on Mars and to supply gasoline for his or her spacecraft. (Actually, astronauts have been the main target of an instrument aboard Odyssey that measured how a lot house radiation they must deal with earlier than it stopped working in 2003.) The orbiter finds the water ice utilizing its gamma-ray spectrometer (GRS) detector, which has confirmed to be a succesful hunter of near-surface hydrogen – a proxy for water ice. The GRS measures the quantity of various components on the Martian floor and in addition serves as a node in NASA’s interplanetary gamma-ray burst (GRB) detection community, which identifies supply places of GRB’s for follow-up astronomical observations.
What Mars Is Made Of
Have a look at virtually any mapping examine of the Martian floor, and it most likely consists of Odyssey knowledge. For a few years, probably the most full international maps of Mars have been made utilizing Odyssey’s infrared digicam, known as the Thermal Emission Imaging System, or THEMIS. The digicam measures the floor temperature day and evening, permitting scientists to find out what bodily supplies, resembling rock, sand, or mud, exist. Its knowledge reveals the presence of those supplies based mostly on how they warmth up or calm down over the course of a Martian day.
The online impact of 20 years’ price of all that mapping? Scientists haven’t simply used the info to map valley networks and craters, they’ve additionally been capable of spot sandstone, iron-rich rocks, salts, and extra – findings that assist lend deeper perception to Mars’ story. “It’s exhausting to overstate how the THEMIS international map has stuffed gaps in our data,” stated Laura Kerber of JPL, Odyssey’s deputy undertaking scientist.
THEMIS has despatched again greater than 1 million photos because it started circling Mars. The photographs and maps it’s produced spotlight the presence of hazards, resembling topographic options and boulders, however additionally they assist guarantee the security of future astronauts by exhibiting the placement of sources resembling water ice. This aids the Mars science group and NASA in deciding the place to ship landers and rovers – together with the Perseverance rover, which touched down on Feb. 18, 2021.
Routine Calls House
From early on, Odyssey has served as a long-distance name heart for NASA’s rovers and landers, sending their knowledge again to Earth as a part of the Mars Relay Network. The concept of Mars relay goes again to the 1970’s, when the 2 Viking landers despatched science knowledge and pictures via an orbiter again to Earth. An orbiter can carry radios or antennas able to sending again extra knowledge than a floor spacecraft. However Odyssey made the method routine when it started conveying knowledge to and from NASA’s Spirit and Alternative rovers.
“When the dual rovers landed, the success of relaying knowledge utilizing UHF frequency was a gamechanger,” stated Chris Potts of JPL, Odyssey’s mission supervisor.
Every day, the rovers might go someplace new and ship contemporary photos again to Earth. By means of a relay like Odyssey, scientists received extra knowledge sooner, whereas the general public received extra Mars photos to be excited over. Odyssey has supported over 18,000 relay periods. Today, it shares the communications activity with NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MAVEN, together with the ESA (European House Company) Hint Gasoline Orbiter.
Odyssey has executed such a radical job of finding out the Martian floor that scientists have began turning its THEMIS digicam to seize unique views of Mars’ moons Phobos and Deimos. As with the Martian floor, finding out every moon’s thermophysics helps scientists decide the properties of supplies on their surfaces. Such data can provide glimpses into their previous: It’s unclear whether or not the moons are captured asteroids or chunks of Mars, blasted off the floor by an historical impression.
Future missions, just like the Japanese House Company’s Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) spacecraft, will search to land on these moons. Within the distant future, missions would possibly even create bases on them for astronauts. And in the event that they do, they’ll depend on knowledge from an orbiter that started its odyssey initially of the millennium.
THEMIS was constructed and is operated by Arizona State College in Tempe. Odyssey’s Gamma Ray Spectrometer was offered by the College of Arizona, Tucson, Los Alamos Nationwide Laboratory, and the Russian House Analysis Institute. The prime contractor for the Odyssey undertaking, Lockheed Martin House in Denver, developed and constructed the orbiter. Mission operations are carried out collectively from Lockheed Martin and from JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena.