Today marked Surveyor's third full day of operations in orbit around the red planet. As of 11:59 p.m. PDT, the spacecraft has just passed the halfway point of its second revolution around Mars and is now falling back toward the low point of its orbit. Surveyor will reach this point at 12:28 p.m. on Monday.
Currently, the spacecraft's velocity relative to the surface of Mars measures 1,271 m.p.h. (568 meters per second). By the time Surveyor reaches the bottom on Monday afternoon to start its third orbit, the velocity will have accelerated to nearly 10,515 m.p.h. (4,700 meters per second).
Most of the day's activities were devoted toward configuring the spacecraft for orbital operations. The first of these occurred early in the morning when the onboard flight computer was commanded to switch its internal navigation system from an Earth-based coordinate frame to a Mars-based frame. Later in the afternoon, the computer loaded critical parameters into the software for the aerobraking phase of the mission that will begin Wednesday morning.
Tomorrow afternoon, Surveyor will perform a rotation to point the science instruments directly at Mars during a 20-minute period centered on the point of closest approach of the third orbit. This opportunity will allow the laser altimeter and camera to collect science for the first time at Mars. The laser is currently powered off and will be activated about six hours prior to the start of orbit number 3.
In addition, the Thermal Emission Spectrometer and Magnetometer science instruments will also utilize Monday's 20-minute opportunity to scan the red planet. However, these instruments have been collecting data on a continuous basis because they do not need to be pointed directly at Mars in order to operate.
After a mission elapsed time of 311 days from launch, Surveyor is 159.49 million miles (256.67 million kilometers) from the Earth and in an orbit around Mars with a period of 45 hours. The spacecraft is currently executing the T2 command sequence, and all systems continue to be in excellent condition.
Status report prepared by:
Office of the Flight Operations Manager
Mars Surveyor Operations Project
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena, CA 91109