Earlier this week, excited investigators representing several of Surveyor's science teams held a press conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to announce initial findings from the first half-month of data collection. Although full-scale investigations will not begin until aerobraking is completed early next year, the science teams have already obtained several close-up images of the Martian surface, discovered sources of magnetic anomalies buried in the planet's crust, measured surface and atmosphere temperatures, and obtained topographical data about rifts much deeper than the Grand Canyon.
For more information about these initial findings, please visit the following page on the Surveyor web site:
This page contains links to explanations about the initial science results, graphical illustrations used by the scientists at the press conference, and a download archive of images taken by the camera since orbit insertion.
Meanwhile, aerobraking continues to proceed smoothly after 13 revolutions around the red planet. At the start of aerobraking operations two weeks ago, the altitude of the orbit's high point was 33,570 miles (54,025 km). As of today, that height has dropped down to 30,304 miles (48,770 km). Over the next four months, the high-point altitude will shrink all the way down to 280 miles (450 km).
Passes through the atmosphere now occur once every 39 hours as the spacecraft skims through the low point of its orbit 68.4 miles (110 km) above the Martian surface. At this altitude, air resistance slows Surveyor by about 6.7 m.p.h. (3 meters per second) on each orbit. Although aerobraking deeper in the atmosphere will accelerate the process of shrinking the orbit, spacecraft safety constraints prohibit passes at altitudes significantly lower than the current value.
In addition to shrinking the size of Surveyor's orbit, aerobraking has also had a positive effect on the solar panel that deployed about 20 degrees short of its final position just after launch. This position discrepancy resulted when part of the panel's deployment mechanism broke and wedged into the hinge connecting the panel to the spacecraft. During the most recent atmospheric passes, the force of the oncoming air flow has been strong enough to force the panel back into position despite the presence of debris in the hinge. The panel is now less than one degree from its proper position.
After a mission elapsed time of 330 days from launch, Surveyor is 167.81 million miles (270.07 million kilometers) from the Earth and in an orbit around Mars with a period of 39.25 hours. The spacecraft is currently executing the P14 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