Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is the biggest spacecraft to be sent to Mars, carrying some of the most sophisticated instruments ever. The spacecraft went into an elliptical parking orbit around the Red Planet on March 11, 2006. It will study the planet's composition and structure and serve as a powerful communications relay for future missions to the surface.
One of its scientific objectives is to explore whether Mars could once have supported microbial life. Its cameras and spectrometers will search the surface for features related to water, without which life is not thought able to survive. Meanwhile, a radar sounder will look for liquid water reservoirs that may exist beneath the surface of Mars.
MRO joined two US orbiters – Mars Global Surveyor (now defunct) and Mars Odyssey – and one European orbiter, Mars Express, at the fourth planet.
NASA is planning two further Mars missions this decade: the Phoenix module, set for launch in 2007, and Mars Science Laboratory in 2009.
Related entry Mars, unmanned spacecraft
Related category SATELLITES AND SPACE PROBES
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