September 5th, 2006

Astronomer helps park Mars probe in orbit Silver City Sun-News

NASA’s newest Mars spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, completed its aerobraking phase last week, settling into an orbit that takes it around the red planet in just under two hours instead of the 36-hour circuit it started with.
It took five months to maneuver it into this desired orbit using the tricky technique known as aerobraking — dipping into the planet’s atmosphere to slow the spacecraft and reshape its orbit — but it saved about $15 million, said Jim Murphy, head of the astronomy department at New Mexico State University.
That’s about what it would have cost to carry enough fuel to use the spacecraft’s rocket engines to maneuver it into the desired orbit, he said.

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