Mars Telecommunications Orbiter

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Mars Telecommunications Orbiter
Mission typePlanetary science, Mars exploration
WebsiteJPL's MTO web page at the Wayback Machine (archived September 24, 2005)
Mission duration1-year cruise plus 10 years in orbit (planned)
Start of mission
Launch dateLaunch cancelled
RocketAtlas V(401) or a Delta-4M.
Orbital parameters
Semi-major axis5,000 km (3,106.9 mi)
  • Optical Communications Payload: - demonstrate laser communication in space
  • Narrow Angle Camera:- Support canister detection
  • Orbiting Sample Demonstration Canister: - Technology demonstration

The Mars Telecommunications Orbiter (MTO) was a cancelled Mars mission that was originally intended to launch in 2009 and would have established an Interplanetary Internet between Earth and Mars.[1][2] The spacecraft would have arrived in a high orbit above Mars in 2010 and relayed data packets to Earth from a variety of Mars landers, rovers and orbiters for as long as ten years, at an extremely high data rate. Such a dedicated communications satellite was thought to be necessary due to the vast quantity of scientific information to be sent to Earth by landers such as the Mars Science Laboratory.[3]

On July 21, 2005, it was announced that MTO had been canceled due to the need to support other short-term goals, including a Hubble servicing mission, Mars Exploration Rover extended mission operations, launch Mars Science Laboratory in 2009, and to prevent Earth science mission Glory from being cancelled.[4]

Data transfer technology[edit]

The Mars Telecommunications Orbiter would have carried Mars Laser Communication Demonstration to demonstrate laser communication in space (optical communications), instead of usual radiowaves. "Lasercom sends information using beams of light and optical elements, such as telescopes and optical amplifiers, rather than RF signals, amplifiers, and antennas."[5]

MTO would have had two 15 W X-band radio transmitters, and two Ka-band radio transmitters (35 W operational, and 100 W experimental).[1]

Proposed successors[edit]

After the cancellation, a broader mission was proposed as the Mars Science and Telecommunications Orbiter.[6] However, this mission was soon criticized as lacking well-defined parameters and objectives.[7] Another mission has since been proposed as the 2013 Mars Science Orbiter.[8]

The communications capability provided by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Express science missions has proven substantial, demonstrating that dedicated relay satellites may be unnecessary in the near future. The two newest science orbiters are the MAVEN, which arrived at Mars on September 21, 2014 with an Electra transceiver; and the 2016 European ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, that also carries an Electra UHF band transceiver.[9] But both follow science orbits not designed for relay communications.

Around 2014, a concern in NASA is that the currently used relay satellite, Mars Odyssey, may fail, resulting in the need to press MAVEN science orbiter into use as the backup telecommunications relay,[10] but the highly elliptical orbit of MAVEN will limit its usefulness as a relay for operating landers on the surface.[11][12]

As of 2018, the proposed Next Mars Orbiter (NeMO) is to be a dedicated telecommunications orbiter with a robust science package,[13][14] tentatively planned for the late 2020s.[15] It is anticipated to employ a laser communication subsystem, that was successfully tested aboard the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer mission in 2013.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Breidenthal, Julian C.; Edwards, Charles D.; Greenberg, Edwards; Kazz, Greg J.; Noreen, Gary K. (March 2006). "End-to-End Information System Concept for the Mars Telecommunications Orbiter". NASA JPL. hdl:2014/38660.
  2. ^ NASA To Test Laser Communications With Mars Spacecraft; By Brian Berger, Space News, 25 May 2005.
  3. ^ Berger, Brian (July 25, 2005). "NASA Mars Telecom Orbiter Axed As Space Agency Priorities Shift". Space News. Retrieved January 29, 2023.
  4. ^ Text of a Letter from the President to the Speaker of the House of Representatives July 15, 2005 | SpaceRef
  5. ^ Townes, Stephen A.; et al. "The Mars Laser Communication Demonstration" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 27, 2009. Retrieved April 28, 2008.
  6. ^ NASA (March 2006). "NASA MEPAG: Mars Science and Telecommunications Orbiter (DRAFT)". Archived from the original on 2012-09-05.
  7. ^ National Research Council (2006). Assessment of NASA's Mars Architecture 2007-2016. doi:10.17226/11717. ISBN 978-0-309-10273-5.
  8. ^ Mars Science Orbiter (PDF). MEPAG. 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-05.
  9. ^ "ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO)". European Space Agency. 12 July 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
  10. ^ Dan Leone (24 February 2015). "NASA Eyes New Mars Orbiter for 2022". Space News.
  11. ^ Stephen, Clark (July 27, 2014). "NASA considers commercial telecom satellites at Mars". Space Flight Now. Retrieved 2014-09-23. It is due to arrive at Mars in September, but MAVEN's planned orbit is not ideal for collecting and sending rover data.
  12. ^ Newest NASA Mars Orbiter Demonstrates Relay Prowess. November 10, 2014.
  13. ^ Stephen, Clark (March 3, 2015). "NASA eyes ion engines for Mars orbiter launching in 2022". Space Flight Now. Retrieved 2015-03-07.
  14. ^ Leone, Dan (February 24, 2015). "NASA Eyes New Mars Orbiter for 2022". Space News. Washington, DC. Retrieved 2015-03-08.
  15. ^ Clark, Stephen (April 9, 2018). "NASA is counting on long-lived Mars orbiter lasting another decade". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved April 22, 2018.
  16. ^ LADEE