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ESA's SMART-1 spacecraft completed its 250th orbit.
Opportunity took a last look back at the 22-metre "Eagle Crater" that it called home for two months while providing incredible evidence of Mars' watery past. This panoramic photo shows just how flat the Meridiani Planum region is. The area is surrounded by windblown sand, which indicates that wind is the primary geologic process going on here. There are two interesting depressions in the ground that Opportunity will examine before heading off to another crater.
The European Space Agency's SMART-1 spacecraft completed its 250th orbit this week on its long, slow journey to the Moon. The spacecraft's solar-powered ion engine is being turned on for 1.5 hours at the low point of each orbit. This slowly (and efficiently) raises the spacecraft in larger and larger orbits until it finally gets caught by the Moon's gravity - then it will decrease its orbit until it's going around the Moon. This whole journey will take 16 months, with SMART-1 arriving in lunar orbit in March 2005.
NASA has scheduled March 27 for the next flight for the experimental X-43A research vehicle. The unpiloted 4-metre prototype will be carried to supersonic speeds on the front of a Pegasus rocket. It will then fly under its own power using an air-breathing scramjet engine to reach Mach 7. A scramjet scoops oxygen from the air as it flies, and uses this to combust its fuel. This is the second test of a X-43A prototype; the first was destroyed because of a problem with the Pegasus booster.
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