Two small spacecraft -- an orbiter and lander -- to be launched to Mars in 1998 to help scientists trace the evolution of the planet's climate and search for water in the Martian soil will be built for NASA by Lockheed Martin Astronautics of Denver, Colo.

Dr. Edward C. Stone, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, announced the selection today after a fast paced, industry-wide competition lasting only two months. The estimated value of the contract is $92.2 million.

"Lockheed Martin Astronautics presented a very compelling case for its selection, in light of NASA's rigorous demands for two very complicated planetary missions in 1998," Stone said. "These requirements -- to develop and operate two spacecraft at the same level of funding that was previously allocated for a single mission -- brought in excellent designs for the orbiter and lander spacecraft from Lockheed Martin. This will result in significant savings because they will both be developed under the same roof."

The pair of spacecraft, currently called the Mars Surveyor 1998 orbiter and lander, continues NASA's efforts to cut costs by building smaller, less expensive planetary spacecraft. The 1998 orbiter will be just one-half the weight of Mars Global Surveyor, an orbiter that will be launched in 1996. The 1998 lander, similarly, will be just half the weight of the 1996 Mars Pathfinder, the smallest planetary lander yet constructed.

The new missions will be the second set of spacecraft in NASA's decade-long program of Mars exploration, known as the Mars Surveyor Program. The spacecraft will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., during the 1998 Mars launch opportunity, which falls between December 1998 and February 1999.

"The pair of spacecraft will be designed to continue exploring the history of climate change on Mars and initiate a search for water in the Martian soil," said Project Manager Dr. John McNamee of JPL. "Lockheed Martin Astronautics has demonstrated its commitment to our goals of continued exploration and forming a teaming relationship with industry by its willingness to invest internal funds to reduce some of the costs associated with building spacecraft for Mars Surveyor and other programs.

"In addition, Lockheed Martin demonstrated a commitment to mission success," he added, "by its willingness to forego all potential award fees in the event either spacecraft fails to perform its mission at Mars."

Science instruments for the 1998 lander will be selected following an announcement of opportunity planned for release by NASA in May. The 1998 orbiter will carry a camera (also to be selected through the May announcement of opportunity) and one of the two remaining science instruments from the former Mars Observer mission that could not be carried on the 1996 Mars Global Surveyor mission.

The new pair of spacecraft will return information that builds upon the goals of the 1996 missions, which seek to answer key questions about Mars's early history. The 1998 missions, however, will take that scientific quest a step further, initiating a search for water in the Martian soil and delving into longstanding theories about whether primitive life ever existed early in the planet's history.

During and after its primary science mission, the 1998 Mars Surveyor orbiter also will serve as a data relay satellite for the companion lander and for future NASA and international lander missions to Mars.

The extremely light weights of the new lander and orbiter will allow them to be launched on a newly designed launch vehicle, called the Med-Lite, which is roughly half the size of the Delta II launch vehicles being used for the 1996 Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Pathfinder missions. A Med-Lite will be capable of delivering about 450 kilograms (1,000 pounds) of hardware to Mars.

JPL manages the Mars Surveyor Program for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.

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