2001 Mars Odyssey, named after Arthur C. Clark's novel, '2001: A Space Odyssey,' and previously called Mars Surveyor 2001 orbiter, was successfully launched on April 7, 2001 from Cape Canaveral with a Delta II rocket. After an interplanetary cruise of more than 6 months, the spacecraft reached planet Mars and was successfully inserted into Mars orbit on October 24, 2001, 2:55 UT (October 23, 7:55 pm Pacific). Aerobraking phase followed from October 26, 2001 to January 11, 2002.
During the aerobraking phase, the highly-excentric initial Mars orbit into which Odyssey was originally inserted (to save fuel) was lowered by using the friction of Mars' atmosphere; this orbit has a farthest point of 27,000 kilometers above Mars and a closest approach of 128 km (nearly 80 miles) above Mars' surface. At the end of this phase in January 2002, the lowest point (periapsis) was still at about 120 km or 75 miles above the planet, and the most distant point (apoapsis) be lowered to near 500 km or 311 miles.
Then, onboard thrusters were fired to raise the periapsis and achieve a nearly circular 400 km Polar orbit, a maneuver called periapsis lift. The first maneuver to raise the periapsis was successfully completed on January 11, 2002 and ended the aerobraking phase. It was followed by two orbit-tuning firings on January 15 and 17, and two final fine-tuning maneuvers on January 28 and 30, 2002.
Now in its mapping orbit, the 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft has started to conduct science from orbit, its primary science mission covering the time of February, 2002 through July, 2004 (917 Earth days). This Mars orbiter mission is to perform the research originally scheduled for the lost Mars Climate Orbiter (Mars Surveyor 1998 Orbiter), i.e., Mars weather and climate. Scientific investigations include mineralogical mapping and radiation measurements, with its main instruments GRS (Gamma Ray Spectrometer) from Mars Observer, THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System) which is developed under the direction of ASU, and MARIE (Mars Radiation Environment Experiment).
Early findings include enormous quantities of water ice under Mars' surface, announced May 28, 2002, confirming optimistic theories of Mars scientists, and clues about Rock Layer History for thermal maps. Mars Odyssey's THEMIS has begun to post daily images.
The spacecraft may also serve as communications relay for future Mars landers
such as the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers.
Odyssey's First Image of Mars - thermal IR image from above south pole. Taken October 30, 2001 from a height of 22,000 km (13,600 miles) above the planet.
Odyssey's first visual image of Mars - click to see the location of this image within an IR image like that above. Both images were taken on November 2, 2001 from a height of about 13,600 miles (22,000 km). The late spring south polar cap is about 540 miles (900 km) in diameter at this time.
Last Modification: November 21, 2001