NASA decommissions Mars orbiter mineral-mapping instrument
After more than 15 years of operation, NASA has turned off one of six science instruments aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars, or CRISM, produced global maps of minerals of the Red Planet’s surface. According to NASA, the instrument was switched off on April 3, 2023, a move the agency said it has been planning since last year.
“Shutting down CRISM marks the end of an era for us,” said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project scientist Rich Zurek in an agency news release. “It’s revealed where and how water transformed ancient Mars. The CRISM data products will be mined by scientists for years to come.”
CRISM and five other instruments launched aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2005. The spacecraft, which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, has been orbiting the red world since 2006. NASA said CRISM was a tool that helped scientists learn about the composition of the Martian surface.
Using its two detectors, the instrument was able to identify minerals, rocks, and other materials on the planet’s surface, collecting a wealth of information, including data about how lakes, streams and groundwater shaped Mars billions of years ago. CRISM is led by scientists at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland.
NASA said it relied on CRISM maps to decide where to send both Mars rovers Curiosity and Perseverance, which landed on the Red Planet in 2012 and 2021, respectively.
According to NASA, CRISM, which observes visible and infrared light, relied on cryocoolers to isolate its infrared spectrometer from the warmth of the spacecraft. The agency said three cryocoolers were used in succession, with the final completing its lifecycle in 2017.
Since then, CRISM has been used to create two new nearly-global maps of Mars that relied on data previously collected by the infrared spectrometer, as well data from its visible light spectrometer.
“With these new maps, researchers can easily tie mineral deposits observed in high-resolution images to regional scale trends, landscape features, and geology,” said Kim Seelos, CRISM’s deputy principal investigator at APL. “Even though the CRISM investigation is formally coming to a close, I hope and expect to see many future scientists taking advantage of CRISM data for their research.”
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is one of three operational satellites owned by the United States circling the Red Planet. There are also two active orbiters from the European Space Agency, one from the United Arab Emirates and another from China.
Additionally, there are two active nuclear powered NASA rovers at different locations on the surface of Mars, one of which has a drone-like helicopter as an exploration assistant.
China also has a solar-powered rover on Mars. Called Zhurong, it landed in May 2021. In May 2022, the vehicle was placed into hibernation for the Martian winter. It was supposed to autonomously wake up six months later, but this has yet to occur.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.