Building a Better Spacecraft

With the selection of Lockheed Martin to build the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), NASA is one step nearer to getting a closer look at the Red Planet, but according to the project’s program manager, Kevin McNeill, the spacecraft’s builders face a wide variety of technical challenges. Lockheed Martin was given the green light Wednesday to construct the MRO, to be launched in August 2005. The craft is to return the highest resolution images of the Martian surface ever taken by Mars-circling orbiters. Objects as small as the size of beach balls will be resolved through the lens of the orbiter’s camera system, said Jim Graf, the MRO project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. JPL will manage the mission that will operate for five-and-a-half years.