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NASA turns Mars sniffer into data-relay satellite for rovers

IANS  |  Washington 

NASA's atmosphere-sniffing Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission has embarked on a new campaign to tighten its orbit around the red planet to become a for the US space agency's 2020 rover.

The operation will reduce the highest point of the spacecraft's elliptical orbit from 6,200 kilometres to 4,500 kilometres above the surface, according to

engineers will begin lowering the lowest part of the spacecraft's orbit into the Martian upper atmosphere over the next few days by firing its thrusters.

Taking the advantage of drag of the Mars' upper atmosphere, engineers over the next few months, will slow the gradually, orbit by orbit, reported on Monday.

The orbit of the four-year-old will not be drastically shorter than its present orbit, but even this small change will significantly improve its communication capabilities.

"It's like using your cell phone. The closer you are to a cell tower, the stronger the signal," said Bruce Jakosky, from the University of Colorado,

Also, coming in about 1,500 kilometres closer will allow the orbiter to circle more frequently -- 6.8 orbits per compared with 5.3 previously -- thus communicating with the Mars rovers more frequently.

At unoccupied time, will continue to study the structure and composition of the upper atmosphere of Mars.

"The MAVEN has done a phenomenal job teaching us how Mars lost its atmosphere and providing other important scientific insights on the evolution of the Martian climate," said Jim Watzin, of NASA's Mars Exploration Programme.

The MAVEN has completed its two-year mission but its fuel allows it to last through 2030, said.

The orbiter carries an ultra high-frequency radio that allows it to relay data between Earth and rovers or landers on Mars, including the Curiosity rover.

According to the US-based space agency, the spacecraft will circle Mars at this lower altitude about 360 times over the next 2.5 months, slowing slightly with each pass through the atmosphere.



(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, February 12 2019. 16:20 IST