This drawing shows Mars Global Surveyor taking measurements as it flew through the ionosphere of Mars during an early aerobraking pass. The orbit is shown by the dashed line. The ionosphere is shown by the shaded region circling the planet (not to scale).
Click on image for full size
Image from: NASA/JPL

Aerobraking

Aerobraking slowed the Mars Global Surveyor down when it reached Mars. Aerobraking also helped MGS to get into the right orbit for mapping the surface of Mars. Aerobraking means that the MGS flew through the atmosphere every time it came close to the planet. The drag on the spacecraft produced by the atmosphere slowed the spacecraft down. This action is kind of like a person running through a swimming pool. The water slows the person down.

Surveyor reached Mars in September 1997. Aerobraking helped Surveyor reach the right orbit by February 1999.

Last modified May 11, 2001 by Jennifer Bergman.

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