This illustration depicts a concept for NASA's Mars Telecommunications Orbiter in flight around Mars.

This illustration depicts a concept for NASA's Mars Telecommunications Orbiter in flight around Mars. The orbiter is in development to be the first spacecraft with a primary function of providing communication links while orbiting a foreign planet. The project's plans call for launch in September 2009, arrival at Mars in August 2010 and a mission of six to 10 years while in orbit. Mars Telecommunication Orbiter would serve as the Mars hub for an interplanetery Internet, greatly increasing the information payoff from other future Mars missions. The mission is designed to orbit Mars more than 10 times farther from the planet than orbiters dedicated primarily to science. The high-orbit design minimizes the time that Mars itself blocks the orbiter from communicating with Earth and maximizes the time that the orbiter is above the horizon -- thus capable of communications relay -- for rovers and stationary landers on Mars' surface.

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