Landfall at Santa Maria for Opportunity on Mars


NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover arrived today (Dec .15) at Santa Maria crater on Sol 2450. She sits just 20 meters from the crater rim. A multitude of inviting rocks and boulders are strewn about the 80 meter diameter crater, making this a Martian geologists dream.

And so it goes too for a Martian photographer with lots to shoot and with the giant 14 km wide Endeavour crater serving as backdrop and coming into ever clearer focus.

Santa Maria is just 6 km from the western rim of Endeavour (see panoramic mosaics above and below).

MRO image of Santa Maria crater from orbit with Sol markers. Credit: NASA/JPL/UA/MSSS/Eduardo Tesheiner

Opportunity has been on a swift advance since departing from Intrepid crater in mid-November and driven about 1.5 km over very smooth terrain. The rover continues to benefit from a bounty of solar power and upgraded software enabling longer and more frequent days of drives. Opportunity has now driven a total of 26.4 km.

Opportunity Sol 2450 (Dec 15, 2010) 90 degree perspective projection around Santa Maria crater. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Midnight Mars Browser

The rover team is planning for an extensive and multi week science campaign at Santa Maria using all the instruments and cameras at their disposal.

Opportunity will spend the holiday season and the upcoming Solar conjunction exploring around Santa Maria according to Matt Golembek, Mars Exploration Program Landing Site Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif.

There will be no uplink commanding to the spacecraft around the actual conjunction period from Jan. 28 to Feb. 12 (UTC) out of caution that the command transmission could be disrupted.

The team plans a sophisticated wide-baseline stereo-imaging survey of Santa Maria by having Opportunity drive to several positions halfway around the crater. A mineral survey will be carried out using the spectrometers, microscope and drill – known as the RAT or rock abrasion tool – located at the terminus of the rover’s robotic arm.

3 D view of the feature resembling an “Alligator’s Tail” near the rim of Santa Maria crater on Sol 2450. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Stu Atkinson

See several additional amateur mosaics below – including 3 D images – from all of us at unmannedspaceflight .com.

The rover is now at the two thirds mark of a 19 km (12 mile) journey from Victoria crater on the road to reach the rim of the scientifically rich environs of Endeavour crater sometime later in 2011. Opportunity explored the rim and interior of Victoria from mid-2006 to mid-2008.

Santa Maria is the largest feature that Opportunity will explore between Victoria and Endeavour craters. The team assigns informal names to craters visited by Opportunity based on the names of historic ships of exploration in human history. See Opportunity traverse maps below.

More than 95 percent of the data from Spirit and Opportunity are relayed by NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. Today, Odyssey broke the record for being the longest-serving spacecraft at the Red Planet during it’s 3,340th day in Martian orbit.

Opportunity traverse route from Victoria crater to Santa Maria crater.