NASA plans to reduce the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission’s orbit around the red planet to support data exchange between the agency and its future rovers on Mars. The space agency said Monday that it will lower MAVEN spacecraft's elliptical orbit from 3,850 to 2,800 miles above the planet’s surface to serve as data-relay satellite for the Mars 2020 rover.
MAVEN features an ultra-high-frequency radio transceiver to share data between Earth and the rovers or landers on Mars. NASA said the reduced orbit will provide the spacecraft with a stronger telecommunications antenna signal.
"It's like using your cell phone," said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator from the University of Colorado, Boulder. "The closer you are to a cell tower, the stronger your signal."
NASA launched MAVEN to study how Mars lost its atmosphere and continues to analyze the structure and composition of the planet's upper atmosphere until it begins new communications tasks. The agency expects the spacecraft to continue operations through 2030.