Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission

Launch - Aug, 2005 - Lift-off from Earth
Cruise - Aug, 2005/Mar, 2006 - Voyage through space to Mars
Approach - Mar, 2006 - Nearing the red planet
Mars Orbit Insertion - Mar, 2006 - Capturing the spacecraft into orbit around Mars
Aerobraking - Mar, 2006/Nov, 2006 - Slowing down in the martian atmosphere and settling into a lower, circular orbit for science-data collecting
Science Operations - Nov, 2006/Nov, 2008 - Gathering information about Mars through the day-to-day activities of the orbiter
Communications Relay - Nov, 2008/Dec, 2010 - Using the orbiter to communicate with other landed missions
End of mission: ongoing

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter NASA  mission was launched to Mars in August 2005. An Atlas V-401 launcher vehicle has been used, which has provided almost all the energy needed to reach the final destination. The MRO will remain into Mars orbit without landing on the planet.

This launch vehicle has been selected just because it provides the performances needed to fly a large spacecraft to Mars in the 2005 launch period. Actually, although it is technically possible to launch a mission every two years, the 2005 mission requires more performances then a 2003 or 2007 launch for the position of the planets in their orbits and for the MRO weight, which is higher then that of other spacecrafts.
The mission aims at studying the planet's minerals and at monitoring Martian climatic conditions, to search for water, also as past signs, and to look for the existence of vapour in Mars atmosphere.
While other missions have demonstrated the evidence of the presence of water on the red planet surface, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will determine how long the water remained on it and whether life ever arose on it.

After a seven-month cruise to Mars, from August 2005 to March 2006, and six months of aerobraking to reach its science orbit, it will photograph Mars surface very close, it will analyze its minerals, it will look for water in its subsoil, it will determine how much water and dust are distributed in the atmosphere and it will monitor daily global weather.

Moreover the MRO will be a powerful communication and navigation link for other missions. In fact its telecommunication systems will provide a crucial service for future spacecrafts, becoming the first link of a bridge between Mars and the Earth, a kind of very high precision "interplanetary Internet " which will be used during other international missions in coming years.

Onboard the spacecraft will be installed also an experimental navigation camera, which, if it will perform well, will be able to be used on other orbiters, guiding future landings on Mars surface, also in dangerous or hidden sites, becoming a high accuracy "interplanetary eye".

NASA Mars Artwork
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as it orbits over the martian poles