Space

MAVEN Mars orbiter to make launch window to study Martian atmosphere

MAVEN Mars orbiter to make lau...
Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
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Crane moving MAVEN at the Kennedy Space Center (Image: NASA/Tim Jacobs)
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Crane moving MAVEN at the Kennedy Space Center (Image: NASA/Tim Jacobs)
Installing MAVEN's antenna (Image: NASA/Tim Jacobs)
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Installing MAVEN's antenna (Image: NASA/Tim Jacobs)
Inspecting MAVEN's solar panels (Image: NASA/Jim Grossmann)
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Inspecting MAVEN's solar panels (Image: NASA/Jim Grossmann)
MAVEN undergoing electrical testing (Image: NASA/Jim Grossmann)
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MAVEN undergoing electrical testing (Image: NASA/Jim Grossmann)
MAVEN's Atlas V launch vehicle arriving at Cape Canaveral (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
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MAVEN's Atlas V launch vehicle arriving at Cape Canaveral (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
MAVEN's Atlas V launch vehicle arriving at Cape Canaveral (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
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MAVEN's Atlas V launch vehicle arriving at Cape Canaveral (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
MAVEN undergoing preflight processing (Image: NASA/ Jim Grossmann)
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MAVEN undergoing preflight processing (Image: NASA/ Jim Grossmann)
Testing MAVEN's Solar Wind Electron Analyzer (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
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Testing MAVEN's Solar Wind Electron Analyzer (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
Testing MAVEN's solar array (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
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Testing MAVEN's solar array (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
Radome being installed on MAVEN (Image: NASA/Jim Grossmann)
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Radome being installed on MAVEN (Image: NASA/Jim Grossmann)
MAVEN being presented to the media (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
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MAVEN being presented to the media (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
Stowing MAVEN's solar panels (Image: NASA/Jim Grossmann)
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Stowing MAVEN's solar panels (Image: NASA/Jim Grossmann)
MAVEN spin test (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
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MAVEN spin test (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
Diagram of MAVEN (Image: NASA)
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Diagram of MAVEN (Image: NASA)
Diagram of the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (Image: NASA)
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Diagram of the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (Image: NASA)
Diagram MAVEN's Mass Spectrometer (Image: NASA)
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Diagram MAVEN's Mass Spectrometer (Image: NASA)
MAVEN's magnetometer (Image: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)
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MAVEN's magnetometer (Image: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)
MAVEN's Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (Image: NASA/SSL)
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MAVEN's Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (Image: NASA/SSL)
MAVEN's SupraThermal and Thermal Ion Composition instrument (Image: NASA/SSL)
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MAVEN's SupraThermal and Thermal Ion Composition instrument (Image: NASA/SSL)
MAVEN's Solar Wind Electron Analyzer (Image: NASA/SSL)
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MAVEN's Solar Wind Electron Analyzer (Image: NASA/SSL)
MAVEN's solar energetic particle detector (Image: NASA/SSL)
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MAVEN's solar energetic particle detector (Image: NASA/SSL)
MAVEN's Langmuir Probe and Waves antenna (Image: NASA/CU-LASP)
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MAVEN's Langmuir Probe and Waves antenna (Image: NASA/CU-LASP)
Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
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Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
MAVEN solar panels under construction (Image: Lockheed Martin)
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MAVEN solar panels under construction (Image: Lockheed Martin)
Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
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Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
MAVEN under construction (Image: Lockheed Martin)
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MAVEN under construction (Image: Lockheed Martin)
Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
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Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft in orbit around Mars (Image: NASA/Goddard)
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Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft in orbit around Mars (Image: NASA/Goddard)
MAVEN undergoing interference testing (Image: Lockheed Martin)
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MAVEN undergoing interference testing (Image: Lockheed Martin)
Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
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Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
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Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
MAVEN's Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (Image: NASA)
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MAVEN's Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (Image: NASA)
MAVEN showing antenna (Image: Lockheed Martin)
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MAVEN showing antenna (Image: Lockheed Martin)
Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
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Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
MAVEN solar panels under construction (Image: Lockheed Martin)
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MAVEN solar panels under construction (Image: Lockheed Martin)
Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
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Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
MAVEN's fuel tank (Image: Lockheed Martin)
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MAVEN's fuel tank (Image: Lockheed Martin)
Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
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Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft (Image: NASA/Goddard)
MAVEN's Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer (Image: NASA)
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MAVEN's Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer (Image: NASA)
Preparing MAVEN for shipping (Image: Lockheed Martin)
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Preparing MAVEN for shipping (Image: Lockheed Martin)
Testing the Deep Space Network's compatibility with MAVEN's systems (Image: NASA/ Jim Grossmann)
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Testing the Deep Space Network's compatibility with MAVEN's systems (Image: NASA/ Jim Grossmann)
Cleaning MAVEN's solar array (Image: NASA/ Jim Grossmann)
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Cleaning MAVEN's solar array (Image: NASA/ Jim Grossmann)
Reattaching MAVEN's solar array (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
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Reattaching MAVEN's solar array (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
MAVEN arrives at the Kennedy Space Center (Image: NASA/Tim Jacobs)
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MAVEN arrives at the Kennedy Space Center (Image: NASA/Tim Jacobs)
MAVEN being unpacked (Image: NASA/Tim Jacobs)
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MAVEN being unpacked (Image: NASA/Tim Jacobs)
Engineer positioning MAVEN (Image: NASA/Tim Jacobs)
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Engineer positioning MAVEN (Image: NASA/Tim Jacobs)

On Monday, NASA confirmed the launch date of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission (MAVEN). According to the space agency, MAVEN will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 1:28 PM EST on November 18 on the first leg of its mission to study the upper atmosphere of the Red Planet.

Monday’s announcement allowed space scientists a sigh of relief because the recent partial shutdown of the US federal government over a budget dispute put the MAVEN mission in danger of missing its launch window. This would have meant a postponement of at least 26 months while NASA waited for Mars and Earth to move back into the proper alignment.

"When we proposed and were selected to develop MAVEN back in 2008, we set our sights on Nov. 18, 2013, as our first launch opportunity," says Dave Mitchell, MAVEN project manager at Goddard. "Now we are poised to launch on that very day. That's quite an accomplishment by the team."

MAVEN spin test (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
MAVEN spin test (Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

The MAVEN mission is aimed at answering the question of where the Martian atmosphere went to. Evidence from various space probes indicates that billions of years ago Mars had a much thicker carbon dioxide atmosphere and free-flowing water that may have supported microbial life. But since that time, that atmosphere has been nearly completely stripped away, leaving the planet a desert drier than any place imaginable on Earth.

The answer this conundrum, NASA is sending the US$671 million MAVEN spacecraft to make the most comprehensive study yet of the Martian upper atmosphere. The 5,410-lb (2,450-kg) unmanned probe was built by Lockheed Martin, which is responsible for mission operations, and is based on the earlier Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey spacecraft.

Its goal is to study the history of the Martian atmosphere and the processes that affect it, such as the rate of atmosphere loss, how the upper atmosphere interacts with the solar wind, and the ratios of various isotopes. These will later be compared with similar measurements taken by the Curiosity rover on the Martian surface.

To accomplish its mission, MAVEN is equipped with three instrument suites. First, there’s the Particles and Fields Package, which is made up of six instruments for studying the solar wind and the Martian ionosphere. This includes sensors for measuring the solar wind, ionospheric electrons, the Martian magnetic field, and other properties.

Inspecting MAVEN's solar panels (Image: NASA/Jim Grossmann)
Inspecting MAVEN's solar panels (Image: NASA/Jim Grossmann)

The second is the Remote Sensing Package, which is designed to measure global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere as well as taking ultraviolet spectroscopic images of the planet.

Finally, there’s the Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, which measures the composition of the Martian upper atmosphere with a specific interest in isotopes of neutral gases and ions.

If the November launch is successful, it will be the beginning of a 10-month journey to Mars that will see it arrive in orbit around the Red Planet on September 22 of next year. MAVEN will then go into a highly elliptical orbit as it begins its one-year science mission. The angle of the orbit will allow it to observe all the latitudes of Mars as it swings out to a distance of 3,728 mi (6,000 km) to make planet-wide observations before orbiting back to 93 mi (150 km) above the surface to sample the atmosphere directly. During the mission, the craft will dip down to an altitude of about 77 mi (125 km), which is the lower edge of the Martian upper atmosphere.

Diagram of MAVEN (Image: NASA)
Diagram of MAVEN (Image: NASA)

In addition to its science mission, MAVEN will also provide a data link from other Mars exploration craft to Earth, though its highly elliptical orbit will make this a limited function.

"The MAVEN mission is a significant step toward unraveling the planetary puzzle about Mars' past and present environments," says John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "The knowledge we gain will build on past and current missions examining Mars and will help inform future missions to send humans to Mars."

The video below is of Monday’s press conference confirming the launch date

Source: NASA

NASA's Next Mission to Mars

1 comment
Ronald Chappell
I think that it went into space. If not why don't you try looking on the Martian 'ground'.