October 5, 2013
Despite Government Shutdown, MAVEN Mission Moving Forward: Interview
[ Watch the Video: MAVEN Mission Will Still Launch In November ]
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
When the government closed its doors earlier this week its impact was felt by all agencies, including NASA. The US space agency had to halt many of its projects and some contractors were forced to stop whatever they were doing for the time being until the House was able to come to an agreement on the Affordable Health Care Act, or what is also known as "Obamacare."
Some speculation led people to believe that NASA's Mars Atmospheric and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, expected to launch in November, would be forced to delay until 2016. This mission has a 20-day launch window, and if it fails to lift-off between November 18th and December 7, then NASA would have the wait until Mars and the Earth were properly aligned again before the next attempt.
Despite the looming questions over the government's impact on future NASA missions, Bruce M. Jakosky, Principal Investigator for MAVEN, said the next Martian spacecraft will move forward as planned.
"I learned yesterday morning that NASA has analyzed the MAVEN mission relative to the Anti-Deficiency Act and determined that it meets the requirements allowing an emergency exception," Jakosky, Professor of Geological Sciences and Associate Director for Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder, told redOrbit. "MAVEN is required as a communications relay in order to be assured of continued communications with the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers. The rovers are presently supported by Mars Odyssey launched in 2001 and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter launched in 2005. Launching MAVEN in 2013 protects the existing assets that are at Mars today."
He said that a delay in the launch date by more than a week past the end of the nominal launch period, or a delay of launch to 2016, would require more fuel in order to get MAVEN into orbit around the Red Planet.
"This would have precluded having sufficient fuel for MAVEN to carry out its science mission and to operate as a relay for any significant time," Jakosky told redOrbit.
The principal investigator added that they can launch as late as about December 15 without significant impact on NASA's combined science and relay activities. NASA currently has no relay orbiter planned post-MAVEN, making the spacecraft a crucial instrument for the US space agency and its rovers.
"Although the exception for MAVEN is not being done for science reasons, the science of MAVEN clearly will benefit from this action. Launching in 2013 allows us to observe at a good time in the eleven-year solar cycle," Bruce told redOrbit. "We have already restarted spacecraft processing at Kennedy Space Center, working toward being ready to launch on Nov. 18. We will continue to work over the next couple of days to identify any changes in our schedule or plans that are necessary to stay on track."
NASA says MAVEN will help provide information on how and how fast atmospheric gases are being lost to space today. This study will help scientists understand the impact that change had on the Martian climate, geologic, and geochemical conditions over time.
MAVEN will be the first spacecraft to ever make direct measurements of the Martian atmosphere by utilizing its eight science instruments. The spacecraft will also be providing communications support for future landers and rovers on Mars, similar to what the Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have done for the Mars Exploration Rovers and Phoenix.