December 10, 2003
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter passes over the planet's south polar region in this artist's concept illustration.
NASA plans to launch this multipurpose spacecraft in August 2005 to advance our understanding of Mars through detailed observation, to examine potential landing sites for future surface missions and to provide a high-data-rate communications relay for those missions.
The orbiter's shallow radar experiment, one of six science instruments on board, is designed to probe the internal structure of Mars' polar ice caps, as well as to gather information planet-wide about underground layers of ice, rock and, perhaps, liquid water that might be accessible from the surface.
Phobos, one of Mars' two moons, appears in the upper left corner of the illustration
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for the NASA Office of Space Science, Washington. JPL's main industrial partner in the project, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, Colo., is building the spacecraft. The Italian Space Agency is providing the radar instrument.