Mars Polar Lander Timeline
Dec 3, 1999: First Day on Surface. The lander will touch down at 12:00 PM Pacific Standard Time. On Mars, the local time will be 5 AM. The lander will unfold its solar panels two minutes after landing and begin pointing its medium-gain radio antenna at Earth five minutes after landing; the MVACS Meteorogy mast will be deployed a short time later. The lander will establish a two-way Earth-to-Mars radio link approximately 20 minutes after landing. During its first 20-minute communication session, it will transmit critical information on the spacecraft's health, initial meteorological data, and possibly some compressed images acquired by the MVACS SSI camera prior to deployment.
Dec 3, 1999: SSI Camera Scans Horizon. During the lander's first day on the surface, it will begin relaying the MARDI descent images back to Earth and begin surveying its new environment. Some of the most anticipated data that will be acquired during the first days of the mission will be a scan of the horizon by the MVACS Surface Stereo Imager (SSI). The SSI is nearly identical to the IMP camera that flew on Mars Pathfinder, and will be capable of providing stereo color panoramas of the landing site. Additionally, the SSI will acquire quantitative data relating to clouds and water vapor in the Martian atmosphere.
Dec 4, 1999 - Mar 1, 2000: Soil Sample Acquired by Robotic Arm. During the third day of the mission, the MVACS Robotic Arm will acquire its first samples of Martian soil. The robotic arm is about two meters long and has approximately the same strength as a human arm. The arm includes a probe to measure the temperature of surface and subsurface soil, and a Robotic Arm Camera which can take close-up images of the arm's workspace and soil samples.
Dec 4, 1999 - Mar 1, 2000: Soil Delivered to TEGA for Analysis. Soil samples acquired by the Robotic Arm will be delivered to the MVACS Thermal And Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) for analysis. The TEGA sifts the soil into one of eight small ovens. As the samples are heated, the quantities of water vapor and carbon dioxide released are measured. The TEGA data can be used to determine the concentrations of of water ice, adsorbed water and carbon dioxide, hydrated minerals and carbonates in the soil. These measurements will place valuable constraints on our understanding of the distribution and behavior of volatiles on Mars, as well as give clues to Mars' climate history.
Dec 4, 1999 - Mar 1, 2000: Robotic Arm Camera Image. The MVACS Robotic Arm Camera (RAC) will provide images of the Martian surface and the Mars Polar Lander from a unique perspective. At it's closest focus, the RAC can obtain images with a resolution of 23 microns per pixel, which is higher resolution than the unaided human eye. The image on the left, acquired during lander testing at Lockheed Martin, is a RAC image of the lander deck showing the TEGA and the Robotic Arm Temperature Probe.
Dec 3, 1999 - Mar 1, 2000: Daily and Seasonal Atmsopheric Variations. During its three month surface mission, the Mars Polar Lander instruments will measure both daily and seasonal variations in atmospheric properties. The LIDAR instrument will make the first such measurements of the Martian atmosphere. The MVACS Meterology Package's Tunable Diode Laser (TDL) Spectrometer will make the first accurate in situ measurements of the concentration of water vapor in the Martian atmosphere. The MVACS MET sensors will make the first measurements of temperature, pressure and winds in the Martian southern hemisphere.
Dec 4, 1999 - Mar 1, 2000: The Sounds of Mars. The Mars Microphone will make the first recordings of the sounds of Mars. The microphone will be capable of detecting sounds generated by the lander and its instruments, as well as natural sound in the Martian environment. Microphone data will typically be acquired for 15 seconds each day, with the possibility of longer listening periods to search for unusual or intermittant sounds.
Dec 4, 1999 - Mar 1, 2000: Digging for ice. One of the major goals of the MVACS investigation is to search for Martian ground ice. Subsurface ice is common at high-latitudes on Earth. The image at left shows a near-surface ice layer exposed in the dry valleys of Antarctica. Models for the behavior of water on Mars predict that ice could be stable throughout the year as as close as 20 cm below the surface at the Mars Polar Lander's landing latitude. During the course of the mission, MVACS robotic arm will scoop up soil and dig a trench up to 50 cm deep. The trench walls will be examined by the Robotic Arm Camera and samples from inside the trench will be analyzed for water ice content by the MVACS TEGA. The discovery of ground ice would be important for Mars science, as well for future human exploration of Mars.
Mar 1, 2000: Mars Sunset. The longevity of the Mars Polar Lander will be limited by its ability to withstand the rigors of the changing polar environment. The lander will arrive during the late Martian spring season in the southern hemisphere, when the sun will be above the horizon throughout the day, and surface temperatures will vary between -80 °C and -20 °C. Towards the end of the summer season, the sun will dip closer and closer to the horizon, making it colder, and more difficult for the lander to generate solar power. March 1, 2000, will mark the first true sunset at the Mars Polar Lander landing site. It is not expected that the lander will be able to collect much useful scientific data after this point. After it dies, the lander will spend the next year frozen in the Martian south seasonal carbon dioxide polar cap at a temperature of -125 °C. There is a faint possibility that the lander will revive itself when the spring sun returns in 2001.
Mar 1, 2000 - Sep 30, 2000: Observations Compared with Physical Models. The data acquired by the Mars Polar Lander instruments will provide a clear picture of the local environment at the landing site. The knowledge gained at the landing site can be generalized to the planet as a whole, and to oher climatic regimes by assimilating the Mars Polar Lander datasets into physical models. Specific scientific questions that can be addressed will include: What is the global distribution of ground ice on Mars? How much water and carbon dioxide are trapped in the Martian soil? How much water exchanges between the Martian atmsosphere and surface? How has the distribution and behavior of water and carbon dioxide on Mars varied over time?
Mar 1, 2000 - Sep 30, 2000: Results Published. In addition to the rapid release of images and other scientific results through the web and press conferences, the Mars Polar Lander science teams will publish the results of their investigations in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Sep 30, 2000: Data Archived. In addition to publication, a complete record of all the data acquired by the Mars Polar Lander instuments will be archived by NASA's Planetary Data System (PDS). The PDS archive will enable scientists from future generations to analyze and compare the Mars Polar Lander data with that obtained by all past planetary missions.
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