August 6, 2013
Final Preps For NASA Mission To Study The Upper Atmosphere Of Mars
[ Watch the Video: NASA | MAVEN Magnetometer ]
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
As the Mars Curiosity rover marks its one-year anniversary, NASA is already beginning final preparations for the November launch of its next mission to the Red Planet.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatiles Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday. It is currently housed in a cleanroom, undergoing in-depth testing and fueling prior to its move to the launch pad, the US space agency announced on Monday.
MAVEN, which has a 20-day launch window starting on November 18, will mark NASA's first attempt to survey the upper atmosphere of Mars. Scientists with the agency hope it will provide new insight into how the loss of atmospheric gas to space could have factored into changes in the planet's climate.
"We're excited and proud to ship the spacecraft right on schedule," David Mitchell, the project manager at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a statement. "But more critical milestones lie ahead before we accomplish our mission of collecting science data from Mars. I firmly believe the team is up to the task. Now we begin the final push to launch."
MAVEN was transported on board a US Air Force C-17 cargo plane from Colorado's Buckley Air Force Base to Kennedy. Officials from the agency spent the weekend removing the spacecraft from its shipping container and securing it to a rotation fixture in the cleanroom. NASA inspected it and confirmed it was in good condition.
Over the next week, components that had been removed during the move from Colorado to Florida will be reassembled, they noted. In addition, MAVEN will undergo software checks, spin balance tests and a trial deployment of its solar panels and booms prior to its launch.
"Previous Mars missions detected energetic solar fields and particles that could drive atmospheric gases away from Mars. Unlike Earth, Mars does not have a planet-wide magnetic field that would deflect these solar winds. As a result, these winds may have stripped away much of Mars' atmosphere," NASA said.
Data collected by MAVEN during its one-year mission will help scientists to determine what the planet's climate would have been like in the past. They will use that information to recreate those past conditions and determine what caused Mars to come the cold and dusty desert planet that it is today.
It is expected to enter the planet's atmosphere sometime next September, and as reported in May, it will carry with it a DVD containing the names and brief messages from individuals who submitted the information as part of NASA's Going to Mars campaign. The deadline for those submissions was July 1.
"The Going to Mars campaign offers people worldwide a way to make a personal connection to space, space exploration, and science in general, and share in our excitement about the MAVEN mission," said Stephanie Renfrow of the MAVEN Education and Public Outreach program, which was coordinated at the University of Colorado at Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (CU/LASP).
"This new campaign is a great opportunity to reach the next generation of explorers and excite them about science, technology, engineering and math," added Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator from CU/LASP. "I look forward to sharing our science with the worldwide community as MAVEN begins to piece together what happened to the Red Planet's atmosphere."