Learn about the first radar satellite Magellan and its functions.
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Learn About the Magellan Satellite Magellan was the first satellite to provide detailed images of Venus. The secret of Magellan’s success is a sophisticated radar instrument that operates with incredible speed and efficiency. During a burst of activity that lasts less than one second, Magellan acquires imaging, altimetry and radiometry data. This information is used to make images of the Venusian terrain to determine the heights of surface features and to measure the microwave energy that is naturally emitted from the planet. Magellan gathers date for approximately 25 minutes during each three-hour orbit around the slowly turning planet. Standing at the North Pole and moving south, Magellan maps and swayed as strips that cover an area of about 16 miles wide and nearly 7000 miles long. Twice during each orbit, Magellan turns its dish antenna toward earth and transmits the data it has just acquired. While this happens, engineers on earth track the change in motions of the spacecraft to learn about Venus’ gravitational field. The large antennas of NASA’s deep space network received the string of data from Magellan then transfer it to NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory. Compute as process that data into 15-foot long image strips. These strips provide the first look at what Magellan has discovered. Additional processing of the strips reveals exciting and sometimes puzzling details, a missive lava flow that appears to come from the rim of an impact less than mile long lava channel that is unequalled in the inner system and an unexplained jet-like streak associated with another impact crater. Dr. Steve Saunders, the projects scientist said Magellan had given us some more detailed view of Venus than we’ve ever had before. Needless to say, scientist and their students are thrilled learning with the quality of the data but by the quantity. They’ve begun to use some new evolving computer technology to combine the images with altimetry data and make simulated flights over the surface of Venus. Although Magellan completed its first mapping cycle in May of 1991, its exploration of Venus will continue for several years.