Instrument Package Delivered for NASA’s Upcoming MAVEN Mars Mission

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

The remote sensing instrument package that will be a key part of an upcoming NASA mission investigating how Mars could have lost its atmosphere is ready for integration into the spacecraft.

The $20 million package — which was built at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) and includes the Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS), its electronic control box, the Remote Sensing Data Processing Unit (RSDPU) — was delivered to Lockheed Martin for integration on the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft on Friday, the university announced in a prepared statement.

MAVEN, a $670 million mission currently scheduled for a November 2013 launch, will attempt to analyze and comprehend how the loss of atmospheric gases over multiple eons has affected the planet’s climate.

“With the delivery of this package, we are shifting from assembling the basic spacecraft to focusing on getting the science instruments onto the spacecraft,” CU-Boulder geological sciences professor, LASP associate director, and project head Bruce Jakosky said in a statement. “This is a major step toward getting us to launch and then getting the science return from the mission.”

The RSDPU will receive and execute commands, directing the IUVS in the performance of its tasks. The IUVS will then collect UV light and spread it out on a spectra, which is recorded using image detectors. The IUVS will act as the “eyes” of the remote sensing package, Nick Schneider, lead MAVEN IUVS scientist and LASP research associate explained.

“The IUVS allows us to study Mars and its atmosphere at a distance by looking at the light it emits,” Schneider said. “Ultraviolet light is especially diagnostic of the state of the atmosphere, so our instrument provides the global context of the whole atmosphere for the local measurements made by the rest of the payload.”

Twenty-one days following the launch, the remote sensing package will be activated for an initial operations test, and later on during the voyage from Earth to Mars, it will be powered up on two additional occasions for in-flight calibration and to ensure that all facets of the machinery are operating properly, CU-Boulder explained.

“MAVEN will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian atmosphere, with a goal of determining the history of the loss of atmospheric gases to space through time, providing answers about Mars climate evolution,” the university said. “By measuring the current rate of gas escaping to space and gathering enough information about the relevant processes, scientists should be able to infer how the planet’s atmosphere evolved over time.”

“The MAVEN spacecraft will carry two other instrument suites,” they added. “The Particles and Fields Package, built by the University of California Berkeley Space Science Laboratory with support from LASP and NASA Goddard, contains six instruments that will characterize the solar wind and the ionosphere of the planet. The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, provided by NASA Goddard, will measure the composition and isotopes of neutral ions.”