The Phoenix Mars Lander is performing well, with its solar arrays generating more electricity than expected so that Phoenix hours of operation each day can be extended, Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] announced.

The amount of power Phoenix solar arrays produce exceeded pre-landing predictions, enabling the spacecraft team to extend the daily operating hours of the science instruments, the company stated at the Farnborough Air Show near London.

"On the surface, the Phoenix spacecraft is operating better than we had planned. Since launch Phoenix has had a nearly flawless mission, with only a few small hiccups," said Sandra Freund, Phoenix spacecraft systems engineer at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co.

"Robotic surface missions on another planet are extremely complex. When we developed the mission timeline, we put in a number of ‘contingency’ days to address anomalies. The Phoenix mission has had to use very few of these day. That’s a testament to the design and amount of testing the team has put into this spacecraft."

Since the spacecraft’s dramatic landing May 25, the spacecraft surface operations team has been in communication with Phoenix multiple times a day, mostly using the Mars Odyssey orbiter. Original plans had the spacecraft team communicating with Phoenix over the Deep Space Network once in the Martian morning to send science commands and once in the evening to receive the science data back from the instruments.

Since the power levels have been higher than predicted, the team is currently making two communication passes in the morning and two in the evening. During the Martian night, Phoenix wakes from its slumber to perform a systems check and communicates a health status update back to Earth.

However, the good news about Phoenix won’t last long.

The spacecraft only has a few months to live, because it landed in a northern polar region to search for water — or rather, ice — there.

Soon, the long arctic night will begin, robbing Phoenix of the electrical power it must have to keep from freezing to death.

But it will go out with a record of success. It already has dug down into the reddish Martian soil to find some whitish material that researchers say is ice, or frozen water, an element critical to any human habitation on Mars. Other research on the red planet has shown vast quantities of water previously flowed on its surface. (Please see related story in this issue.)