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Mars Polar Lander Mission Status

January 4, 1999

After a stellar launch Sunday from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Station, NASA's Mars Polar Lander is now on its way to the south pole of Mars to search for water ice beneath the edge of layered terrain in this uncharted region of the planet.

The spacecraft remains in excellent health, showing normal power and temperature levels and the proper attitude control for continuous telecommunications with Earth using its medium-gain horn antenna.

The flight team plans to turn the spacecraft 45 degrees toward Earth later this afternoon and better position its medium-gain antenna to improve X-band signal strength. The improved signal will allow the team to perform diagnostic tests of Polar Lander's star camera. The star camera, which is used along with the spacecraft's Sun sensors for attitude determination during cruise, has not yet been able to acquire a specific set of stars and establish the spacecraft's reference in space.

Several possibilities may account for this temporary difficulty, including particles which may have been dislodged at launch and formed a thin halo of dust around the spacecraft, or stray light that is being caught inadvertently in the camera's field of view. The flight team reports that this minor difficulty, however, is not significantly affecting the spacecraft's performance.

Today Mars Polar Lander is approximately 925,000 kilometers (575,000 miles) from Earth, traveling at a speed of about 33 kilometers per second (73,800 miles per hour) relative to the Sun. The spacecraft is on schedule to fire its thrusters in its first trajectory correction maneuver on January 18. This course correction is expected to be the largest and longest of four planned trajectory corrections, taking about five minutes to execute.

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