MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 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.
MH 99-080 9/23/99