The NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), en route to the red planet after an August 12 liftoff, has carried out the first of a series of pre-planned trajectory correction maneuvers.

A cluster of six large thrusters onboard MRO burned August 27 for roughly 15 seconds, placing the huge orbiter on a more refined Mars heading. Follow-on trajectory correction maneuvers - making use of smaller engines - will fine-tune the spacecraft's path as it soars ever-closer to Mars.

"We had an excellent burn," said Wayne Sidney, MRO mission operations lead for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, Colorado - the firm that built the spacecraft. "It was right on the mark...that's the bottom line," he told SPACE.com shortly after the maneuver took place.

Tracking and telemetry data will now be reviewed to plot how accurate the trajectory adjustment was for MRO, Sidney said.

"The spacecraft is operating pretty much flawlessly," said Kevin McNeill, the MRO program manager for Lockheed Martin. "All in all the spacecraft has been just operating as well as we could have ever expected," he told SPACE.com in an August 25 interview.

The MRO maneuver bolsters confidence that the large motors, associated propellant-handling plumbing, and other items are up to snuff for placing the craft into Mars Orbit Insertion in March 2006, said Steve Jolly, chief engineer and deputy program manager on MRO.

The $720 million MRO mission is designed to use a powerful camera system and other equipment to study Martian features ranging from the top of the atmosphere to underground layering, as well as study the history and distribution of water on Mars.

MRO will support future Mars missions by characterizing both robotic and human landing sites and provide a high-data-rate communications relay.