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On Mars: Exploration of the Red Planet. 1958-1978

Viking Orbiter and Its Mariner Inheritance
[155] During the closing days of 1968, the engineers at Langley, in consultation with specialists at JPL and NASA Headquarters, completed a Viking spacecraft design. Viking would have two major systems&emdash;an orbiter and a lander. While the lander would provide the means for safely delivering the scientific instruments to the surface, house, and provide the necessary power source and communications links for those experiments, the orbiter had a series of equally important functions in the Viking mission. The orbiter would transport the lander to Mars, provide a platform for the Viking imaging system so that proposed landing sites could be surveyed and certified, relay lander science information (pictures and other data in an electronic format) to Earth, and conduct scientific observations in its own right.
Despite early debates among NASA managers, it was only logical that the design and development of the Viking orbiter system he carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the engineering team already had an expertise in the design of planetary spacecraft. After building the Ranger lunar probes and the early Venus and Mars Mariner flyby spacecraft, the California engineers had gone on to build the Mariner Mars 69 flyby craft and were working on the Mariner Mars 71 orbiter when Viking was initiated. The Viking orbiter would borrow heavily from Mariner technology, with such specialized functions as the project demanded being added to the basic chassis.
Early plans for the Viking orbiter called for only a few modifications of the Mariner 71 craft. However, structural changes that permitted mating the lander to the orbiter and enlarging the solar panels led to significant alterations of the basic 1971 orbiter. During the long flight to Mars, the orbiter would have to provide power to the lander, especially during the periodic checkups on the lander's health and during occasional updates of the landers computerized memory. These additional energy requirements made it necessary to increase significantly the solar panels, from 7.7 square meters to 15.4.
[156] The decision to build a large soft-landing craft instead of a small hard-lander led to the requirement for a large orbiter. The orbiter would not only have to transport the lander. it could also have to carry an increased supply of propellant for longer engine firings during Mars orbit insertion, longer than those planned for the 1971 Mariner mission. 1 And an upgraded attitude control system with greater impulse, plus a larger supply of attitude control propellant, would be required to control the combined spacecraft. Table 26 categorizes the Viking orbiter subsystems as compared to Mariner 71, listing subsystems from Mariner requiring only minor changes, subsystems from Mariner requiring extensive modifications, and completely new subsystems designed for Viking.


Table 26

Sources of Viking Orbiter Subsystems


Mariner Adaptations





X-band transmitter

Attitude control

Data storage

Pyro control


Relay link

Omni antenna

Scan platlorm

High-gain antenna

Temperature control

Science instruments


Data system


A brief review of the Mariner 69 and Mariner 71 spacecraft will provide a better understanding of the technological relationships between the Mariner and Viking projects.