Washington (ISJ): NASA?s first mission to explore Martian atmosphere is undergoing final preparations ahead of its launch on November 18 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The spacecraft Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) will examine explore the planet?s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind. Scientists will use MAVEN data to determine the role and loss of volatile compounds such as CO2, N2 and H2O from the atmosphere of the Red Planet. It will also give insight into the history of Mars atmosphere and climate
liquid water, and planetary habitability.
"The MAVEN mission is a significant step toward unraveling the planetary puzzle about Mars' past and present environments," said 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 5,410-pound spacecraft will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket on a 10-month journey to Mars. MAVEN will settle into its elliptical science orbit after reaching Mars in September 2014.
MAVEN will observe all of Mars' latitudes during its one-Earth-year primary mission. Altitudes will range from 93 miles to more than 3,800 miles. During the primary mission, MAVEN will execute five deep dip maneuvers, descending to an altitude of 78 miles. This marks the lower boundary of the planet's upper atmosphere.
"Launch is an important event, but it's only a step along the way to getting the science measurements," said Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (CU/LASP) in Boulder. "We're excited about the science we'll be doing, and are anxious now to get to Mars."
The MAVEN spacecraft will carry three instrument suites. The Particles and Fields Package, provided by the University of California at Berkeley with support from CU/LASP and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., contains six instruments to characterize the solar wind and the ionosphere of Mars. The Remote Sensing Package, built by CU/LASP, will determine global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, built by Goddard, will measure the composition of Mars? upper atmosphere.
"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," said 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."