Separate from the Discovery program, which funded the low-cost Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997, the Mars Surveyor program will be responsible for at least another decade of intense Mars exploration.
An entire army of orbiters, landers, rovers, and balloons are headed towards Mars, all a part of NASA's Mars Surveyor program. This program will last for ten years, consisting of a spacecraft launched every 26 months. Why every twenty-six months? Because that's how often the Earth and Mars are favorably aligned. Earth orbits the Sun in one year. Mars takes nearly two Earth years. Every 26 months Earth catches up with and passes by Mars.
Note that the launch dates for these probes are different than the one we allowed you to use; remember, there are various trajectories that can be used to get a craft to Mars and that we assumed a course like that of the Mars Pathfinder, thus limiting the choices of launch dates to demonstrate the idea of the launch window.
Soon, the Mars Surveyor '98 Lander and the '98 Orbiter will be launched to study Martian weather, climate, and water and carbon dioxide levels. While the two will be launched separately, they will perform a single mission to Mars. The '98 Lander and Orbiter will be launched in January 1999. The Lander has four distinct goals:
to record meteorological conditions near the Martian south pole;
to analyze samples of the polar deposits for volatiles;
to dig trenches and image the interior;
to image the regional and immediate landing site surroundings.
On board the Lander will be a Mars Volatile and Climate Surveyor (MVACS) instrument package which will perform all of the above experiments. The lander has a base with three landing legs and an upper deck to hold the instruments. The lander will make an eleven-month cruise around Mars before entering its atmosphere in December of 1999. The mission is expected to last until February 28, 2000. There are plans for another mission later in the spring of 2001.
The Mars Surveyor '98 Orbiter accompanies the '98 Lander, but will be launched in December of 1998. Like the Lander, the Orbiter also has four main goals:
to monitor the daily weather and atmospheric conditions;
to record changes on the Martian surface due to wind and other atmospheric effects;
to determine temperature profiles of the atmosphere;
to monitor the water vapor and dust content of the atmosphere.
The Orbiter will also serve as a data relay satellite for the Mars '98 Lander. Beyond this mission, it will stay in orbit around Mars to relay messages for any other future missions to Mars.
Mission to Mars. An educational site created for the ThinkQuest contest.