NASA to launch first mission to probe Martian atmosphere

PTI Washington | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on October 29, 2013

NASA Prepares to Launch First Mission to Explore Martian Atmosphere. (Image Credit: NASA)   -  NASA

NASA is set to launch its first mission to examine the upper atmosphere of Mars in unprecedented detail.

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission (MAVEN), to be launched on November 18 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, will examine specific processes on Mars that led to the loss of much of its atmosphere.

Data and analysis could tell planetary scientists the history of climate change on the Red Planet and provide further information on the history of planetary habitability.

“The MAVEN mission is a significant step towards unravelling 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,” said Grunsfeld.

The 5,410-pound spacecraft will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket on a 10-month journey to Mars. After arriving at Mars in September 2014, MAVEN will settle into its elliptical science orbit.

Over the course of its one-Earth-year primary mission, MAVEN will observe all of Mars’ latitudes. Altitudes will range from 150 km to more than 6115 km.

During the primary mission, MAVEN will execute five deep dip manoeuvres, descending to an altitude of 125 km. 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.

“We’re excited about the science we’ll be doing, and are anxious now to get to Mars,” said Jakosky.

The MAVEN spacecraft will carry three instrument suites.

The Particles and Fields Package contains six instruments to characterise the solar wind and the ionosphere of Mars.

The Remote Sensing Package will determine global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer 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 November 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,” said Mitchell.

Published on October 29, 2013
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