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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 May 2005, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Next US Mars probe on test bench
Mars Reconaissance Orbiter, Nasa
Mars Reconaissance Orbiter will support future surface missions
Nasa's next spacecraft destined for Mars has been flown by cargo plane from Colorado to Florida where it will blast off to the Red Planet in August.

The Mars Reconaissance Orbiter (MRO) arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in preparation for its 10 August launch.

MRO will study the composition and structure of Mars and serve as a powerful communications relay for future missions to the surface.

The spacecraft could identify suitable habitats for life on the Red Planet.

The spacecraft was built at Lockheed Martin space systems near Denver.

Water search

It arrived at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility aboard a C-17 cargo plane and has been taken to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility.

Here it will undergo a variety of mechanical and electrical tests to make sure it is ready for launch.

MRO is moved into Kennedy Space Center, Nasa
The boxed-up orbiter has now been moved into Kennedy Space Center

If all goes well, the spacecraft will be filled with hydrazine fuel and loaded on to an Atlas V rocket in July. This rocket arrived in March at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station where the launch will take place.

The spacecraft will arrive at Mars in March 2006. One of its scientific objectives is to explore whether Mars could once have supported microbial life.

Its cameras and spectrometers will scour the surface for features related to water, without which life cannot survive. Meanwhile, a radar sounder will look for liquid water reservoirs that may exist beneath the surface of Mars.

Scientists also plan to use the spacecraft to build a more comprehensive picture of Mars' climate and geology, as well as identify promising landing sites for future surface missions; both manned and unmanned.

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