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Mars Odyssey
Mars Odyssey
Mars Odyssey
American Mars orbiter. 2001 Mars Odyssey. Mars Odyssey had the primary science mission of mapping the amount and distribution of chemical elements and minerals that make up the Martian surface.

Status: Operational 2001. First Launch: 2001-04-07. Last Launch: 2001-04-07. Number: 1 . Payload: 45 kg (99 lb). Gross mass: 725 kg (1,598 lb). Unfuelled mass: 376 kg (830 lb). Height: 1.70 m (5.50 ft). Span: 5.70 m (18.70 ft).

Mars Odyssey was part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program as reformulated after a series of probe failures. Mars Odyssey arrived at Mars in October 24, 2001, with the primary science mission spanning January 2002 through July 2004. The mission was to map the amount and distribution of chemical elements and minerals that make up the Martian surface. The spacecraft was to especially look for hydrogen, most likely in the form of water ice, in the shallow subsurface of Mars. It would also record the radiation environment in low Mars orbit to determine the radiation-related risk to any future human explorers who may one day go to Mars.

The three primary instruments carried by 2001 Mars Odyssey were:

  • THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System), for determining the distribution of minerals, particularly those that could only form in the presence of water;
  • GRS (Gamma Ray Spectrometer), for determining the presence of 20 chemical elements on the surface of Mars, including hydrogen in the shallow subsurface (a proxy for determining the amount and distribution of possible water ice on the planet)
  • MARIE (Mars Radiation Environment Experiment), for studying the radiation environment.

During and after its science mission, the Odyssey orbiter would also support other missions in the Mars Exploration program. It would act as a communications relay for U.S. and international landers, including the Mars Exploration Rovers to be launched in 2003.

  • Dimensions: Main structure 2.2 meters, 1.7 meters tall and 2.6 meters wide; wingspan of solar array 5.7-meters tip to tip

  • Mass: 725 kilograms total, composed of 331.8-kilogram dry spacecraft, 348.7 kilograms of fuel and 44.5 kilograms of science instruments

  • Science instruments:
    • Thermal emission imaging system
    • Gamma ray spectrometer
    • Martian radiation environment experiment

  • Power: Solar array providing up to 1,500 watts just after launch, 750 watts at Mars

  • Launch Vehicle: Delta II 7925, Liftoff mass: 230,983 kg
  • Launch window: April 7 to April 27, 2001
  • Earth-Mars distance at launch: 125 million km
  • Total distance traveled Earth to Mars: 460 million kilometers
  • Mars arrival date: October 24, 2001
  • Earth-Mars distance at arrival: 150 million kilometers
  • One-way speed of light time Mars-to-Earth at arrival: 8 minutes, 30 seconds
  • Primary science mapping period: January 2002 -July 2004

  • Program Cost: $297 million total for 2001 Mars Odyssey: $165 million spacecraft development and science instruments, $53 million launch, $79 million mission operations and science processing

The framework of the spacecraft was composed mostly of aluminum and some titanium. The use of titanium, a lighter and more expensive metal, was an efficient way of conserving mass while retaining strength.

Most systems on the spacecraft were fully redundant. This meant that, in the event of a device failure, there was a backup system to compensate. The main exception was a memory card that collected imaging data from the thermal emission imaging system.

Command and Data Handling

All of Odyssey's computing functions were performed by the command and data handling subsystem. The heart of this subsystem was a RAD6000 computer, a radiation-hardened version of the PowerPC chip used on most models of Macintosh computers. With 128 megabytes of random access memory (RAM) and three megabytes of non-volatile memory, which allowed the system to maintain data even without power, the subsystem ran Odyssey's flight software and controlled the spacecraft through interface electronics. The entire command and data handling subsystem weighed 11.1 kilograms.


Odyssey's telecommunications subsystem was composed of both a radio system operating in the X-band microwave frequency range and a system that operated in the ultra high frequency (UHF) range. It provided communication capability throughout all phases of the mission. The X-band system was used for communications between Earth and the orbiter, while the UHF system was to be used for communications between Odyssey and future Mars landers. The telecommunication subsystem weighed 23.9 kilograms.

Electrical Power

All of the spacecraft's power was generated, stored and distributed by the electrical power subsystem. The system obtained its power from an array of gallium arsenide solar cells on a panel measuring seven square meters. A power distribution and drive unit contained switches that send power to various electrical loads around the spacecraft. Power was also stored in a 16-amp-hour nickel-hydrogen battery. The electrical power subsystem operated the gimbal drives on the high-gain antenna and the solar array. It contained also a pyro initiator unit, which fired pyrotechnically actuated valves, activated burn wires, and opened and closed thruster valves. The electrical power subsystem weighed 86.0 kilograms.

Guidance, Navigation and Control

Using three redundant pairs of sensors, the guidance, navigation and control subsystem determined the spacecraft's orientation. A Sun sensor was used to detect the position of the Sun as a backup to the star camera. A star camera was used to look at star fields. Between star camera updates, a device called the inertial measurement unit collected information on spacecraft orientation.

This system also included the reaction wheels, gyro-like devices used along with thrusters to control the spacecraft's orientation. Like most spacecraft, Odyssey's orientation was held fixed in relation to space ("three-axis stabilized") as opposed to being stabilized via spinning. There were a total of four reaction wheels, with three used for primary control and one as a backup. The guidance, navigation and control subsystem weighed 23.4 kilograms.


The propulsion subsystem featured sets of small thrusters and a main engine. The thrusters were used to perform Odyssey's attitude control and trajectory correction maneuvers, while the main engine was used to place the spacecraft in orbit around Mars. The main engine, which used hydrazine propellant with nitrogen tetroxide as an oxidizer, produced a minimum thrust of 65.3 kilograms of force. Each of the four thrusters used for attitude control produce a thrust of 0.1 kilogram of force. Four 2.3-kilogram-force thrusters were used for turning the spacecraft. In addition to miscellaneous tubing, pyro valves and filters, the propulsion subsystem also included a single gaseous helium tank used to pressurize the fuel and oxidizer tanks. The propulsion subsystem weighed 49.7 kilograms.


The spacecraft's structure was divided into two modules. The first was a propulsion module, containing tanks, thrusters and associated plumbing. The other, the equipment module, was composed of an equipment deck, which supported engineering components and the radiation experiment, and a science deck connected by struts. The top side of the science deck supported the thermal emission imaging system, gamma ray spectrometer, the high-energy neutron detector, the neutron spectrometer and the star cameras, while the underside supported engineering components and the gamma ray spectrometer's central electronics box. The structures subsystem weighed 81.7 kilograms.

Thermal control

The thermal control subsystem was responsible for maintaining the temperatures of each component on the spacecraft to within their allowable limits. It did this using a combination of heaters, radiators, louvers, blankets and thermal paint. The thermal control subsystem weighed 20.3 kilograms.


There were a number of mechanisms used on Odyssey, several of which were associated with its high-gain antenna. Three retention and release devices were used to lock the antenna down during launch, cruise and aerobraking. Once the science orbit was attained at Mars, the antenna was released and deployed with a motor-driven hinge. The antenna's position was controlled with a two-axis gimbal assembly. There were also four retention and release devices used for the solar array. The three panels of the array were folded together and locked down for launch. After deployment, the solar array was also controlled using a two-axis gimbal assembly. The last mechanism was a retention and release device for the deployable 6-meter boom for the gamma ray spectrometer. All of the mechanisms combined weigh 24.2 kilograms.

Flight Software

Odyssey received its commands via radio from Earth and translated them into spacecraft actions. The flight software was capable of running multiple concurrent sequences, as well as executing immediate commands as they were received. The software responsible for the data collection was extremely flexible. It collected data from the science and engineering devices and put them in a variety of holding bins. The choice of which channel was routed to which holding bin, and how often it was sampled, was easily modified via ground commands. The flight software was also responsible for a number of autonomous functions, such as attitude control and fault protection, which involved frequent internal checks to determine if a problem had occurred. If the software sensed a problem, it automatically performed a number of preset actions to resolve the problem and put the spacecraft in a safe standby awaiting further direction from ground controllers.

Mars Orbit Insertion

Odyssey would arrive at Mars on October 24, 2001. As it nears its closest point to the planet over the northern hemisphere, the spacecraft would fire its 640-Newton main engine for approximately 22 minutes to allow itself to be captured into an elliptical, or egg-shaped, orbit. If the launch occurs early in the period, Odyssey would loop around the planet every 17 hours. About three orbits after insertion, the spacecraft would fire its thrusters in what was called a period reduction maneuver so that it orbits the planet approximately once every 11 hours.

Aerobraking would then be used to transition from the initial elliptical orbit to the circular science orbit. During each of its long, elliptical loops around Mars, the orbiter would pass through the upper layers of the atmosphere each time it makes its closest approach to the planet. Friction from the atmosphere on the spacecraft and its wing-like solar array would cause the spacecraft to lose some of its momentum during each close approach, known as an "a drag pass." As the spacecraft slows during each close approach, the orbit would gradually lower and circularize.

Aerobraking would occur in three primary phases that engineers call walk-in, the main phase and walk-out.

The walk-in phase occurs during the first four to eight orbits following Mars arrival.

The main aerobraking phase began once the point of the space-craft's closest approach to the planet, know as the orbit's "periapsis," had been lowered to within about 100 kilometers above the Martian surface. As the spacecraft's orbit was reduced and circularized during approximately 273 drag passes in 76 days, the periapsis would moved northward, almost directly over Mars' north pole. Small thruster firings when the spacecraft was at its most distant point from the planet would keep the drag pass altitude at the desired level to limit heating and dynamic pressure on the orbiter.

The walk-out phase occurs during the last few days of aerobraking when the period of the spacecraft's orbit was the shortest. The aerobraking drag pass events would be executed by stored onboard command sequences. The drag pass sequence began with the heaters for the thrusters being warmed up for about 20 minutes. The transmitter was turned off to conserve power during the drag pass. The spacecraft then turned to the aerobraking attitude under reaction wheel control.

Following aerobraking walk-out, the orbiter would be in an elliptical orbit with a periapsis near an altitude of 120 kilometers and an "apoapsis" -- the farthest point from Mars -- near a desired 400-kilometer altitude. Periapsis would be near the equator. A maneuver to raise the periapsis would be performed to achieve the final 400-kilometer circular science orbit. The transition from aerobraking to the beginning of the science orbit would take about one week.

The high-gain antenna would be deployed during this time and the spacecraft and science instruments would be checked out. NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., would provide aerobraking support to JPL's navigation team during mission operations. Langley's role included performing independent verification and validation, developing simulation tools and assisting the navigation team with trade studies and performance analysis.

Mapping Orbit

The science mission began about 45 days after the spacecraft was captured into orbit about Mars. The primary science phase would last for 917 Earth days. The science orbit inclination was 93.1 degrees, which results in a nearly Sun-synchronous orbit. The orbit period would be just under two hours. Successive ground tracks were separated in longitude by approximately 29.5 degrees and the entire ground track nearly repeats every two sols, or Martian days.

During the science phase, the thermal emission imaging system would take multispectral thermal-infrared images to make a global map of the minerals on the Martian surface, and would also acquire visible images with a resolution of about 18 meters. The gamma ray spectrometer would take global measurements during all Martian seasons. The Martian radiation environment experiment would be operated throughout the science phase to collect data on the planet's radiation environment. Opportunities for science collection would be assigned on a time-phased basis depending on when conditions were most favorable for specific instruments.

Relay Phase

The relay phase began at the end of the first Martian year in orbit (about two Earth years). During this phase the orbiter would provide communication support for U.S. and international landers and rovers.

Electric System: 0.75 average kW.

Family: Mars orbiter. Country: USA. Launch Vehicles: Thor, Delta, Delta 2 7000, Delta 7925-9.5. Projects: Mars. Launch Sites: Cape Canaveral, Cape Canaveral LC17A. Agency: JPL, NASA. More at: 6686, 12808. Bibliography: 2, 3942, 3943, 3944, 3945, 552, 554.

Photo Gallery

2001 Mars Odyssey2001 Mars Odyssey
Credit: Manufacturer Image

2001 April 7 - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC17A. Launch Pad: SLC17A. LV Family: Thor. Launch Vehicle: Delta 7925-9.5.
  • 2001 Mars Odyssey - . Mass: 725 kg (1,598 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: JPL. Class: Mars. Type: Mars probe. Spacecraft Bus: Mars Odyssey. Spacecraft: Mars Odyssey. USAF Sat Cat: 26734 . COSPAR: 2001-013A.

    The 2001 Mars Odyssey probe (formerly the Mars Surveyor 2001 Orbiter) was the first spacecraft in the revamped NASA Mars Exploration Program. Built by Lockheed Martin Astronautics (Denver) and JPL, the satellite was similar to Mars Climate Orbiter. It carried a 6-meter boom with a gamma ray spectrometer for remote sensing of Martian surface mineralogy, as well as an infrared imager and a radiation environment monitor. The probe had a dry mass of 376 kg and carried 349 kg of propellant. 2001 Mars Odyssey entered a 195 x 215 km x 52 deg parking orbit 10 minutes after launch. After a 12 minute coast the Delta second stage fired again and separated from the third stage, which placed the probe on an Earth escape trajectory into a 0.982 x 1.384 AU x 3.05 deg solar orbit. It escaped Earth's nominal gravitational sphere of influence at around 19:00 GMT on April 10.

    The 2001 Mars Odyssey probe entered Mars orbit on October 24, 2001. The orbit insertion burn with the main 640 N bipropellant N2O4/hydrazine engine began at 0218 GMT lasted 20 min 19 sec. Mass of the spacecraft was then 456 kg, including 79 kg of fuel left. Initial orbit was was 272 x 26818 km x 93.42 deg with periapsis near the Martian north pole. 76 days of aerobraking began on October 26 to slowly circularise the orbit to its 400 km altitude, 2 hour period sun synchronous operational orbit. The solar panels reached 180 deg C as Odyssey skimmed through upper atmosphere of Mars on each orbit.

    After reaching the operational orbit, the probe was to conduct a 917 day mapping program. It was to also serve as a communications relay for American and international landers expected to arrive in 2003/2004. In the Martian orbit, it was to map the distribution of elements and minerals on the surface, the distribution of hydrogen (embedded in water ice) and the radiation environment. The second was to assess the likelyhood of past or present life, and the third was to assess the radiation hazard to manned missions. The three major instruments on board were THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System at the visible and infrared light) for the distribution, at 100 meter resolution, of minerals that form only in the presence of water, GRS (Gamma Ray Spectrometer) for determining hydrogen and other elements, and MARIE (presumably, MArs RadIation Environment) for determining the radiation hazard. THEMIS was to also enable site selection for a future manned landing. THEMIS was expected to provide 15,000 images, each covering 20 x 20 km. GRS carried two neutron monitors also. The gamma rays and neutrons come out of the surface in distinct, element-specific energies, released by cosmic ray bombardment.

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