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One Year on Mars – A Look at the Accomplishments

Integrated Mission Systems
Feb 14, 2022 | 4 MINUTE Read

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has selected L3Harris Technologies to provide the latest Universal Space Transponder (UST) for the Mars Sample Return program, which is developing capabilities to return Martian samples to Earth for detailed analysis.

The first step in the multi-faceted MSR campaign is the ongoing Mars 2020 Perseverance mission to gather Martian samples, and cache them for collection by a second rover. Our equipment provides NASA’s JPL and European Space Agency with assured communications and years of scientific data.

The Mars program incorporates two L3Harris transceivers – the new UST located on the Sample Retrieval Lander and the existing Electra transceiver on the Earth Return Orbiter. This technology enables secure transmission of data, video, audio and telemetry information to and from Earth, and relays information to other spacecraft deployed to Mars. Flexible by design, the UST’s multi-band transponder accommodates many mission scenarios where data links are required between two spacecraft. 

For 20 years, every U.S. Mars rover and orbiting spacecraft mission have used L3Harris transceivers - including the Electra-Lite and Electra on both the current Perseverance lander and orbiting spacecraft respectively.

Some of the mission accomplishments to date that relied on our Electra and Electra-Lite S-Band transmitter:

  • Samples that may come back to Earth for study have been successful collected.
  • Ingenuity, NASA’s Mars Helicopter, has made more than 18 historic flights.
  • Our transmitter served a critical role when a software fix was needed to make the first flight happen.
  • Our transmitter has sent more than 100,000 images, including a couple of selfies.
  • More than 50 gigabytes of science data has passed through our transmitters.
  • Our transmitters have more than 765,000 hours of operation on Mars.

For the Mars 2020 mission, links between Perseverance and the overhead orbiters MAVEN and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are achieved by the S-Band radio - a designation by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers for a part of the microwave band of the electromagnetic spectrum. The C/TT-510 Electra-Lite Transceiver is flexible enough in its design to accommodate many mission scenarios where data links are required between two spacecraft.

The bands are in-flight tunable transmit and for receive modes. This is the reduced mass version of the C/TT-508 Electra Transceiver. This transceiver is ideal for lander missions with stringent mass and energy constraints. Electra-Lite maintains the core functionality, performance and reprogram ability of the standard Electra. Our reliable, technologically advanced subsystems help ensure our nation’s success in addressing the ever-changing and complex threats we face - across ground, sea, air, space and cyberspace.

As the Perseverance mission continues to focus on studying the surface of Mars, we are excited to see what the next year or years bring. Historically, rovers have performed far beyond their expected life. The Spirit rover, for example, was originally planned as a 90 day mission and exceeded expectation with last contact at almost seven years. Opportunity communicated with ground stations for nearly 15 years after a planned mission of 90-days and it is possible that Perseverance will communicate for at least a decade.

Numerous NASA programs have relied on L3Harris’ expertise and technology – from early spacecraft through the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Space Shuttle, International Space Station and previous Mars missions. L3Harris has supported deep space exploration with work on the Hubble Space Telescope, and now the James Webb and Nancy Grace Roman space telescopes. In addition, the company supports space-based weather forecasting on U.S. and international satellites and has navigation technology on every U.S. GPS satellite.

When it comes to navigating the new space era, L3Harris anticipates customers’ demands and delivers innovative solutions – quickly and flawlessly. 

If you want to shape the future of space exploration while working with talented and empowered engineers, manufacturing professionals and creative individuals who shape the art of the possible – check out our Career page.

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