JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA 91109.
TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 23, 1999
NASA'S MARS CLIMATE ORBITER
BELIEVED TO BE LOST
NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter is believed to be lost due to a
suspected navigation error.
Early this morning at about 2 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time the
orbiter fired its main engine
to go into orbit around the planet.
All the information coming
from the spacecraft leading up to that
point looked normal.
The engine burn began as planned five
minutes before the spacecraft
passed behind the planet as seen
from Earth. Flight
controllers did not detect a signal when the
spacecraft was expected
to come out from behind the planet.
"We had planned to approach the planet at an altitude of
about 150 kilometers (93
miles). We thought we were doing that,
but upon review of the last
six to eight hours of data leading up
to arrival, we saw indications
that the actual approach altitude
had been much lower.
It appears that the actual altitude was
about 60 kilometers (37
miles). We are still trying to figure out
why that happened," said
Richard Cook, project manager for the
Mars Surveyor Operations
Project at NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory. "We believe
that the minimum survivable altitude for
the spacecraft would have
been 85 kilometers (53 miles)."
"If in fact we have lost the spacecraft it is very serious,
but it is not devastating
to the Mars Surveyor Program as a
whole. The program
is flexible enough to allow us to recover the
science return of Mars Climate
Orbiter on a future mission. This
is not necessarily science
lost; it is science delayed," said Dr.
Carl Pilcher, science director
for Solar System Exploration at
NASA Headquarters, Washington,
D.C. "We have a robust program to
explore Mars that involves
launching on average one mission per
year for at least a decade.
It began with the launch of Mars
Pathfinder and Mars Global
Surveyor in 1996, continued with Mars
Climate Orbiter and Mars
Polar Lander and will be followed by
more missions in 2001, 2003
and 2005. In fact, Mars Polar Lander
will arrive in just over
two months and its mission is completely
independent of the Mars
Climate Orbiter. The science return of
that mission won't be affected."
Flight controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, CA and Lockheed
Martin Astronautics in Denver, CO will
continue their efforts to
locate the spacecraft through the Deep
Space Network during the
next several hours. A special
investigation team has been
formed by JPL to further assess the
Mars Climate Orbiter is one of a series of missions in a
long-term program of Mars
exploration known as the Mars Surveyor
Program that is managed
by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for
NASA's Office of Space Science,
Washington, DC. JPL is a
division of the California
Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.