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Keywords:

  • Mars;
  • spaceflight instruments;
  • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

[1] The Context Camera (CTX) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is a Facility Instrument (i.e., government-furnished equipment operated by a science team not responsible for design and fabrication) designed, built, and operated by Malin Space Science Systems and the MRO Mars Color Imager team (MARCI). CTX will (1) provide context images for data acquired by other MRO instruments, (2) observe features of interest to NASA's Mars Exploration Program (e.g., candidate landing sites), and (3) conduct a scientific investigation, led by the MARCI team, of geologic, geomorphic, and meteorological processes on Mars. CTX consists of a digital electronics assembly; a 350 mm f/3.25 Schmidt-type telescope of catadioptric optical design with a 5.7° field of view, providing a ∼30-km-wide swath from ∼290 km altitude; and a 5000-element CCD with a band pass of 500–700 nm and 7 μm pixels, giving ∼6 m/pixel spatial resolution from MRO's nearly circular, nearly polar mapping orbit. Raw data are transferred to the MRO spacecraft flight computer for processing (e.g., data compression) before transmission to Earth. The ground data system and operations are based on 9 years of Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Camera on-orbit experience. CTX has been allocated 12% of the total MRO data return, or about ≥3 terabits for the nominal mission. This data volume would cover ∼9% of Mars at 6 m/pixel, but overlapping images (for stereo, mosaics, and observation of changes and meteorological events) will reduce this area. CTX acquired its first (instrument checkout) images of Mars on 24 March 2006.