Mars Pathfinder's imaging system, called IMP ("Imager for Mars Pathfinder"), is a project headed by Dr. Peter Smith at the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson. I spoke with one of IMP's chief personnel, Dan Britt, about the status of IMP on August 1st.
"The flight model-- the one that will actually go to Mars-- has been here in Tucson for the past month. We did vibration testing at Hughes' Tucson facility, and everything looks really good," said a very enthusiastic Britt. The vibration testing simulates the shaking that will happen during launch and landing. He said the IMP will go into "thermal-vac" in mid-August. Thermal-vac involves putting the instrument in a big chamber, then pumping out all the air to simulate the vacuum of space. The instrument is then cycled through the range of temperatures that it might experience in space.
The flight model IMP was assembled at the Lockheed Martin facility in Denver, Colorado. After the series of tests being done in Tucson, it will be sent to the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in California to attach it to Mars Pathfinder. This delivery is set for November 1st. "The real busy time is over the next couple of months, with thermal-vac and then calibration tests at UA," Britt said. Despite the busy schedule, Britt is looking forward to getting outside and seeing the Mars-like terrain on the field trips in the Channeled Scabland of Washington in September (see article starting on p. 4).
Meanwhile, other Mars Pathfinder activities are going well. Drop-tests of the airbags were planned for the first week of August, and the overall project is running under budget, according to Project Scientist Matt Golombek at JPL.