September 22, 2008 After the Phoenix lander has finished scraping away at Martian soil, the MAVEN spacecraft will examine the atmosphere of the red planet. The US$485 million Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN program is the second stage of NASA’s Mars Scout program, following the successful Phoenix mission.

The MAVEN craft will study the planet’s atmospheric gases, upper atmosphere, solar wind, ionosphere, planetary corona, solar EUV and SEPS, and investigate past climate change. NASA has selected Lockheed Martin to design, build and operate the vessel, which is scheduled to launch in 2013.

The craft, modeled on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey, will arrive at Mars in September 2014, where it will have one (Earth) year to carry out its investigations. MAVEN will enter an elliptical orbit around the planet, ranging from 90 to 3,870 miles above its surface, and dipping to 80 miles in order to sample the upper atmosphere. The craft will be fitted with eight scientific instruments: the Solar Wind Electron Analyzer; the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer; the Suprathermal and Thermal Ion Composition; the Solar Energetic Particle; the Langmuir Probe and Waves; a Magnetometer; the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrometer; and the Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer.

Previous Martian probes uncovered the dynamic past of the red planet, which once possessed a denser atmosphere that supported liquid water. Scientists hope that MAVEN will explain what transformed Mars into its current arid state.

“We know from three decades of studying Mars that its surface was dramatically transformed by water, but we don’t know what happened to that water,” said Jim Crocker, vice president of Sensing and Exploration Systems at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. “The MAVEN mission will provide definitive answers about Mars’ climate history and an understanding of what happened to the liquid water on the surface. Our team is excited to be a part of this fascinating study.”

The project is led by principal investigator Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center will manage the mission.

Kyle Sherer

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