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MAVEN preps for orbital insertion

MAVEN as seen on Spaceflight Insider

Artist rendition of MAVEN arriving at Mars. Image Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A press conference was held at NASA headquarters today to discuss the status of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft as it prepares to enter Mars’ orbit. After completing a 10-month journey and traversing over 442 million miles, the craft is set for orbital insertion on September 21 at 9:50 p.m. EDT (01:50 GMT on September 22).

MAVEN will spend one year at the Red Planet looking for clues as to why Mar's atmosphere is at its current tenuous state. Photo Credit: NASA / Kim Shiflett

MAVEN will spend one year at the Red Planet looking for clues as to why Mar’s atmosphere is at its current tenuous state. Photo Credit: NASA / Kim Shiflett

“So far, so good with the performance of the spacecraft and payloads on the cruise to Mars. The team, the flight team, and all ground assets are ready for Mars orbit insertion,” said MAVEN project manager for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, David Mitchell.

The vehicles six main engines will fire briefly to commence the orbit-insertion. Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems Flight Controllers in Littleton, Colorado will be responsible for monitoring the health and safety of the craft during the entire  33-minute process. After orbital insertion, MAVEN will start a six-week commissioning phase where its instruments will be tested, before beginning a one-Earth-year science mission. Throughout its mission, MAVEN will be responsible for analyzing the structure and composition of Mars’ upper atmosphere as well escape gasses, and how the upper atmosphere interacts with the Sun and solar winds.

“The MAVEN science mission focuses on answering questions about where did the water that was present on early Mars go, about where did the carbon dioxide go,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator from the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. “These are important questions for understanding the history of Mars, its climate, and its potential to support at least microbial life.”

On November 18, 2013, MAVEN launched atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, carrying three instrument packages with it to the red planet. MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the upper atmosphere of Mars and will be a powerful tool in understanding the evolution of the Martian atmosphere.

Artist rendition depicting the process of orbital insertion of NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/GSFC

Artist rendition depicting the process of orbital insertion of NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/GSFC

“MAVEN is another NASA robotic scientific explorer that is paving the way for our journey to Mars,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Together, robotics and humans will pioneer the Red Planet and the solar system to help answer some of humanity’s fundamental questions about life beyond Earth.”

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 with NASA's MAVEN spacecraft lifts off of Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Photo Credit: John Studwell / SpaceFlight Insider

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 with NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft lifts off of Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Photo Credit: John Studwell / SpaceFlight Insider

When asked what the mission means to us and what it means to science, Jaksoky stated, “We make fundamental discoveries each time we visit a planet. MAVEN is a mission of discovery and with this data we hope to put together the whole story of Mars and how it lost its atmosphere.”

Mitchell added, “To see the look in children’s eye when you tell them about your work and to know you are inspiring the next generation. It is very cool to work on a project that is going to Mars. I can’t wait to see what we discover.”

MAVEN’s principal investigator is based at University of Colorado, Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, and the university has supplied two science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the project and also provided two science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. The Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley provided four science instruments for MAVEN. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, and Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

 

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