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Mars 96 Surface Station



The Mars 96 spacecraft was launched into Earth orbit, but failed to achieve insertion into Mars cruise trajectory and re-entered the Earth's atmosphere at about 00:45 to 01:30 UT on 17 November 1996 and crashed within a presumed 320 km by 80 km area which includes parts of the Pacific Ocean, Chile, and Bolivia. The cause of the crash is not known.

The Russian Mars 96 mission was designed to send an orbiter, two small autonomous stations, and two surface penetrators to Mars to investigate the evolution and contemporary physics of the planet by studying the physical and chemical processes which took place in the past and which currently take place. Mars 96 was scheduled to arrive at Mars on 12 September 1997, about 10 months after launch, on a direct trajectory. About 4 to 5 days before arrival the small surface stations were to be released.

The small station was contained inside a cylindrical aeroshell approximately 1 meter in diameter and 1 meter high with a mass of 25.5 kg for a total mass (station plus aeroshell) of 33.5 kg. Each station was to enter the atmosphere at a velocity of less than 5.75 km/s at an entry angle between 10.5 and 20.5 degrees and an entry azimuth between 115 and 145 degrees. The aeroshells were to be shed before landing and parachutes will be used to slow the descent. On landing the station covering would open into four triangular petals which extending approximately 30 cm from the central base.

The primary landing sites were 41.31 N, 153.77 W and 32.48 N, 169.32 W, with a backup site at 3.65 N, 193 W. Landing dispersion was to be 10 degrees along track and 2 degrees across track. All sites are in the Arcadia Planitia region in the northern hemisphere of Mars.

The station was to study the vertical structure of the atmosphere and take images during its descent. On the surface it would have a meteorology station mounted approximately 1 meter above the base of the station to study diurnal, seasonal, and annual variations in the atmosphere. A magnetometer would have extended from one of the petals to measure the planet's surface magnetic field and its variation with time. A seismometer would collect data on the seismic environment. An Alpha-Proton-X-Ray spectrometer would extend from one petal and measure the elemental composition of the surface. An oxidant sensor, extending from a third petal, was to measure oxidant abundances. A panoramic camera is mounted on a mast on the base of the station. The stations were planned to have an active lifetime of about 700 days (approximately 1 martian year) on the surface.

The station was to be powered by two radio-isotope thermogenerators (RTG's), a battery, and a secondary power source. The surface station was equipped with a transmitter to radio data back to the orbiter for return to Earth, and a receiver to download commands from Earth via the orbiter.

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 1996-11-16
Launch Vehicle: Proton
Launch Site: Tyuratam (Baikonur Cosmodrome), Kazakhstan
Mass: 8.0 kg

Funding Agency

  • Russian Space Agency (Russia)


  • Planetary Science

Additional Information

Questions or comments about this spacecraft can be directed to: Dr. David R. Williams.



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
Dr. Albert A. GaleevProgram ScientistRussian Academy of
Dr. Alexander V. ZakharovProject ScientistRussian Academy of

Other Mars 96 Information from NSSDCA

Mars 96 Failure - Timeline from launch to re-entry
Mars 96 Orbiter
Mars 96 Penetrator

Other Sources of Mars 96 Information

Mars 96 Project (IKI)

Information about Mars

Mars Page

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