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NASA’s Next Mars Mission Readied for Florida Trek

Artist’s conception of the MAVEN Mars orbiter. (Courtesy NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

NASA's MAVEN being final-checked prior to sendoff to Florida. Credit: Lockheed Martin

It may not look like a time machine, but in regards to Mars, that’s what NASA’s next mission to the red planet will become.

The spacecraft builders at Lockheed Martin near Denver, Colorado are set to ship NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiter to Florida in early August.

MAVEN is slated for launch onboard an Atlas V booster in November 2013. This will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. The goal of MAVEN is to determine the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the Martian climate through time.

One of MAVEN’s instruments is a Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer. It is designed to study the interaction of neutral gases and ions in the Martian atmosphere with the solar wind, helping scientists to understand how Mars has lost its atmosphere over time.

Insights into Mars

MAVEN’s principal investigator, Bruce Jakosky, is based at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. The university will provide science operations, science instruments and lead Education/Public Outreach.

Scientists will use MAVEN data to determine the role that loss of volatile compounds, such as CO2, N2, and H2O, from the Mars atmosphere to space has played over time, giving insight into the history of Mars atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the project and provides two of the science instruments for the mission. The University of California at Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory provides science instruments for the mission.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., provides navigation support, the Deep Space Network and the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

By Leonard David


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