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Solar System Exploration
Mars 3 Orbiter. M-71 (no. 172)
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Mars 03
Mars 3 Mission to Mars

Mission Type: Lander, Orbiter
Launch Vehicle: booster plus upper stage and escape stages; 8K82K + Blok D (Proton-K no. 249-01)
Launch Site: Tyuratam (Baikonur Cosmodrome); NIIP-5 / launch site 81L
Spacecraft Mass: about 4650 kg at launch (orbiter/bus: 3440 kg, descent module/lander: 1210 kg)
Spacecraft Instruments:
Orbiter: 1) three-component magnetometer; 2) infrared radiometer; 3) radiotelescope; 4) infrared photometer/CO2 absorption strips; 5) ultraviolet photometer; 6) imaging system (two cameras); 7) photometer in visible part of electromagnetic spectrum; 8) cosmic-ray particle detector; 9) energy spectrometer; 10) spectrometer to determine water vapor; and 11) Spectrum 1 instrument to study solar outbursts
Lander: 1) gamma-ray spectrometer; 2) x-ray spectrometer; 3) thermometer; 4) wind velocity recorder; 5) barometer; 6) imaging system (two cameras); 7) penetrometer (on mobile PROP-M); and 8) gamma-ray densitometer (on PROP-M)
Spacecraft Dimensions: Combined orbiter/bus and descent module: 4.1 m high, 5.9 m across the 2 solar-panel wings, and a base diameter of 2 m. Landing capsule: spherical with a diameter of 1.2 m.
Spacecraft Power: Orbiter/bus: 2 solar panels; Lander: Batteries
Antenna Diameter: 2.5 m (high-gain antenna)
Deep Space Chronicle: A Chronology of Deep Space and Planetary Probes 1958-2000, Monographs in Aerospace History No. 24, by Asif A. Siddiqi

National Space Science Data Center,

Solar System Log by Andrew Wilson, published 1987 by Jane's Publishing Co. Ltd.

Like its predecessor (Mars 2), Mars 3 was successfully sent on a trajectory to the Red Planet. The spacecraft completed three midcourse corrections on 8 June, 14 November, and 2 December 1971.

At 09:14 UT on 2 December 1971, the lander separated from the orbiter and, 4.5 hours later, began entry into the Martian atmosphere. Finally, at 13:47 UT, the probe successfully set down intact on the Martian surface, becoming the first humanmade object to perform a survivable landing on the planet. Landing coordinates were 45° south latitude and 158° west longitude. The bus, meanwhile, entered orbit around Mars with parameters of 1,500 x 190,700 kilometers at 48.9° inclination, significantly different from the originally planned orbit.

At 13:50:35 UT, immediately after landing, the lander probe began transmitting a TV image of the Martian surface, although transmissions abruptly ceased after 20 seconds. Because of a violent dust storm that raged across the planet, controllers surmised that coronal discharge may have shorted all electric instrumentation on the lander. The received image showed only a gray background with no detail, probably because the two imaging "heads" had still not deployed in 20 seconds to their full height to see the surface. After the initial contact, the ground lost all contact with the lander probe.

The Mars 3 orbiter, like the Mars 2 orbiter, had problems with its imaging mission. Because the orbiters had to perform their imaging mission soon after entering orbit, they could not wait until the dust storms subsided on the surface. As a result, the orbiter photographs showed few details of the surface. Additionally, controllers had set the cameras at the wrong exposure setting, making the photos far too light to show much detail. Despite the failure of the imaging mission, both orbiters carried out a full cycle of scientific experiments returning valuable data on the planet until contact with both was lost almost simultaneously in July 1972.

The Mars 2 and 3 orbiters sent back a large volume of data covering the period from December 1971 to March 1972, although transmissions continued through August. It was announced that Mars 2 and 3 had completed their missions by 22 August 1972, after 362 orbits completed by Mars 2 and 20 orbits by Mars 3.

The Mars 2 and 3 probes sent back a total of 60 pictures. The images and data revealed mountains as high as 22 km, atomic hydrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere, surface temperatures ranging from -110°C to +13°C, surface pressures of 5.5 to 6 mb, water vapor concentrations 5000 times less than in Earth's atmosphere, the base of the ionosphere starting at 80 to 110 km altitude, and grains from dust storms as high as 7 km in the atmosphere. The data enabled creation of surface relief maps, and gave information on the Martian gravity and magnetic fields.

Mars 3 orbiter also carried a French-built experiment which was not carried on Mars 2. Called Spectrum 1, the instrument measured solar radiation at metric wavelengths in conjunction with Earth-based receivers to study the cause of solar outbursts.

Key Dates
28 May 1971:  Launch
2 Dec 1971:  Mars Orbit Insertion/Landing (13:47 UT)
Status: Partial Success
Fast Facts
Mars 03 Facts Mars 3 was the first humanmade object to perform a survivable landing on Mars, but contact was lost only 20 seconds after landing.

The lander carried a small robot called PROP-M (right), which was to walk 15 m away from the lander on a pair of skis, stopping every 1.5 m to make measurements of the soil.

The mission was a twin to Mars 2, whose lander did not survive the landing.
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Last Updated: 30 Nov 2010