Earlier today, four of Surveyor's science instruments collected data during a 20-minute period centered at the low point and start of the third orbit. At that time, the spacecraft was over a region of Mars called Elysium Planitia. This region contains several mountains, including a 46,000-foot (14-km) tall volcano called Elysium Mons. On August 20th, the camera obtained a long-range image of this area while on approach to Mars. That image is available for public access on the Surveyor web site.
During the 20-minute opportunity controlled by the P3 command sequence, Surveyor rotated to point the Mars Orbiter Camera, Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter, Thermal Emission Spectrometer, and Magnetometer science instruments directly at the surface of Mars. This orientation provided a chance for the camera and laser altimeter to collect data for the first time since arriving the red planet. Although the spectrometer and magnetometer can collect data without being pointed at the planet, they also utilized this excellent opportunity due to Surveyor's low altitude of 163 miles (263 km) at the start of the third orbit.
The data collected by the instruments was transmitted back to Earth early Monday evening. Currently, the science teams are busy analyzing their data, and many of the scientists are excited about their initial results. Some preliminary observations from the scientists about the contents of their data will be available in the near future.
As of 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Surveyor is currently climbing toward the high point of its third revolution around Mars. This point is at an altitude of 33,555 miles (54,002 km) and will be reached Tuesday morning at 10:58 a.m. PDT. At that time, the flight team will command the spacecraft to fire its main rocket engine in order to slow down.
This maneuver will drop the low point of the orbit from its current value of 163 miles (263 km) down into the upper fringes of the Martian atmosphere at 93 miles (150 km). Over the next few months, the spacecraft will lose momentum as it passes through the upper atmosphere during the low point of every orbit. This aerobraking technique will be used to lower the high point of Surveyor's orbit to less than 280 miles (450 km).
After a mission elapsed time of 312 days from launch, Surveyor is 159.95 million miles (257.41 million kilometers) from the Earth and in an orbit around Mars with a period of 45 hours. The spacecraft is currently executing the P3 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