We’re in the midst of the last cycle in MRO’s Primary Science Phase (PSP). Conjunction is coming up, when Mars is behind the Sun, so we won’t be able to communicate with the spacecraft for a few weeks. We’ll get a welcome break during that time – Uplink will have two whole planning cycles off, and Downlink will get a chance to catch up with their processing.
I can’t believe it’s been two years since the last conjunction and the start of PSP! A lot has changed since we started out with those first images. Check out some of these early blog entries to see how far we’ve come:
- Preparing for Transition Phase imaging and beyond
- First look at our initial images from mapping orbit.
- Opportunity! – use of one of our early images to help plan a rover drive.
The last image we’re planning on taking during PSP will be PSP_010901_2265: a new cluster of craters that we think formed very recently. For comparison, to the right is another cluster of recent craters that we imaged last winter (PSP_007431_1870). This should be a great image to finish off this phase of the mission!
Don’t worry, though, the end of PSP is far from the end of our mission. MRO has been approved to continue science operations for another two years. That time period was originally called the “relay phase” of the mission, when it was thought MRO would mainly be relaying data for Phoenix and MSL. However, now Phoenix is basically done, and MSL won’t be there for a while, so it’s not really a “relay” phase. Instead we’re calling it “ESP” for Extended Science Phase. Although we are making plans to simplify and streamline some of our operations, we expect to be doing things much the same way for the next two years – and hopefully for a long time after that!