Mars Orbiter Reaches 200 Terabit Milestone
Lee Rannalsfor redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
NASA announced that its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has sent back over 200 terabits worth of data, or three months worth of non-stop high definition video, since 2006. The new milestone is more than three times the total data returned through NASA’s Deep Space Network for all the other missions managed by the organization’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) over the past 10 years.
NASA says that although the big number does include some of the data relayed from the space agency’s Mars rovers, 99.9 percent of the volume has comes from the science instruments aboard MRO. The number does not include the engineering data that specialists operating the orbiter from JPL and Lockheed Martin Space Systems have obtained for monitoring health and performance.
“The sheer volume is impressive, but of course what’s most important is what we are learning about our neighboring planet,” said JPL’s Rich Zurek, project scientist for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
MRO’S instruments have examined Mars from subsurface to atmosphere while providing images that help reveal new features on the Red Planet’s atmosphere. NASA said that one instrument is able to cover an area comparable to 82 percent of Earth’s land area, with a resolution that can highlight features smaller than a tennis court.
Some of the cameras aboard MRO are able to snap three-dimensional images, providing information about the changing landscape on Mars. Other instruments can help scientists identify surface minerals, probe underground layers, examine cross-sections of the atmosphere and track weather.
“Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has shown that Mars is still an active planet, with changes such as new craters, avalanches and dust storms,” Zurek said. “Mars is a partially frozen world, but not frozen in time.”
NASA said each of the 200 trillion bits of data from MRO has followed a complex path, during which a small team at JPL has to use software to help handle the tens of billions of new data received daily. Data gathered by the orbiter’s instruments and relayed from the rovers are recorded onto MRO’s central memory, and it sends data to NASA’s Deep Space Network several times a day.
A big pile of data gets tossed to JPL, where software helps sort it out into specific products, such as images, measurements, radar readings or data from a rover. During a typical day, the system sorts out 58 billion bits from the MRO into 303 data products.
MRO met all its science goals in a two-year primary science phase that ended in 2008. Three mission extensions have been given to the orbiter, the latest of which began in 2012. NASA pointed out that the longevity of this mission, along with its longer-lived Mars Odyssey orbiter, helps uncover seasonal and longer-term changes on the Red Planet that scientists might not otherwise have known about.