Mars Telecommunications Orbiter

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Mars Telecommunications Orbiter
Mars Telecommunication Orbiter
Organization: NASA
Major Contractors: JPL
Mission Type: Planetary Science, Mars Exploration
Satellite of: Mars
Launch: Cancelled
Launch Vehicle: Possibly an Atlas V(401) or a Delta-4M.
End of Mission: Cancelled
Planned Mission Duration: 1-year cruise plus 10 years on orbit
Mass: 1,800 kilograms
NSSDC ID: Undetermined
Webpage: JPL's MTO web page at the Wayback Machine (archived September 24, 2005)
Orbital elements
Semi-major axis: 5,000 kilometers
Eccentricity: Unknown
Inclination: Unknown
Orbital Period: Unknown
Aphelion: Unknown
Perihelion: Unknown
Orbits: Unknown
Planned Instruments
Electra : Relay science data from future Mars missions
Optical Communications Payload: Demonstrate laser communications to Earth
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 such landers as the Mars Science Laboratory.[citation needed]

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.[3]

Data transfer technology[edit]

The Mars Telecommunications Orbiter was a project 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."[4]

Proposed successors[edit]

After the cancellation, a broader mission was proposed as the Mars Science and Telecommunications Orbiter.[5] However, this mission was soon criticized as lacking well-defined parameters and objectives.[6] Another mission has since been proposed as the 2013 Mars Science Orbiter.[7]

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 newest Mars telecomm orbiter is the MAVEN, which arrived at Mars on September 21, 2014 with an Electra transceiver.

As of 2016, the proposed Mars 2022 orbiter is to be a dedicated telecommunications orbiter with a robust science package.[8][9] It is anticipated to employ a laser communication subsystem, that was successfully tested abord the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer mission in 2013.[10]

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,[11] but the highly elliptical orbit of MAVEN will limit its usefulness as a relay for operating landers on the surface.[12][13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ End-to-End Information System Concept for the Mars Telecommunications Orbiter; March, 2006. NASA JPL.
  2. ^ NASA To Test Laser Communications With Mars Spacecraft; By Brian Berger, Space News, 25 May 2005.
  3. ^ Text of a Letter from the President to the Speaker of the House of Representatives July 15, 2005 | SpaceRef
  4. ^ Townes, Stephen A.; et al. "The Mars Laser Communication Demonstration" (PDF). Retrieved April 28, 2008. 
  5. ^ NASA (March 2006). "NASA MEPAG: Mars Science and Telecommunications Orbiter (DRAFT)". 
  6. ^ National Research Council (2006). "Assessment of NASA's Mars Architecture 2007-2016". 
  7. ^ Mars Science Orbiter (PDF). MEPAG. 2006. 
  8. ^ Stephen, Clark (March 3, 2015). "NASA eyes ion engines for Mars orbiter launching in 2022". Space Flight Now. Retrieved 2015-03-07. 
  9. ^ Leone, Dan (February 24, 2015). "NASA Eyes New Mars Orbiter for 2022". Space News. Washington, DC. Retrieved 2015-03-08. 
  10. ^ LADEE
  11. ^ Dan Leone (24 February 2015). "NASA Eyes New Mars Orbiter for 2022". Space News. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ Newest NASA Mars Orbiter Demonstrates Relay Prowess. November 10, 2014.