Saturday, September 28, 2013

MAVEN Mission to Mars Focuses on Atmosphere

Techicians at Kennedy Space Center do final testing and preparations to the MAVEN spacecraft, designed to orbit Mars and make scientific measurements. MAVEN is scheduled to be launched between Nov. 18 and Dec. 7 on an Atlas V rocket. Credit: MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY

Bathed in orange light and with two black solar wings outstretched, NASA’s Maven spacecraft on Friday looked as if it might already be orbiting Mars. That destination is still a year away, but the $671 million mission is approaching its Nov. 18 blastoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop an Atlas V rocket. “We’ve been working on this mission for years, and we’re close now, real close, and we’re going to Mars, so it’s really pretty cool to be at this point,” said Dave Mitchell, project manager from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

During a media day at Kennedy Space Center, where pre-launch tests are in progress, managers sidestepped questions about how a government shutdown might affect launch plans, saying they would do everything possible to stay on track.

Their schedule still has nine days of margin should technical or other problems arise, and a 20-day launch window can be extended deeper into December if necessary.

Miss that, and the mission would be grounded for two years before the right planetary alignment returned.

Unlike previous missions that have orbited, landed or roved on Mars, Maven is interested less in the planet’s surface than its upper atmosphere.

Eight instruments will study the thin atmosphere and the sun’s influence upon it to understand its history.

How and when did a once warm and wet planet become so cold and dry?

“It’s going to tell us why the atmosphere changed over time,” said Bruce Jakosky, the mission’s lead scientist from the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder. “We think that the surface was conducive to supporting life 4 billion years ago, and not today, and we’re trying to learn why.”

Techicians at Kennedy Space Center do final testing and preparations to the MAVEN spacecraft, designed to orbit Mars and make scientific measurements. MAVEN is scheduled to be launched between Nov. 18 and Dec. 7 on an Atlas V rocket. Credit: MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY
Techicians at Kennedy Space Center do final testing and preparations to the MAVEN spacecraft, designed to orbit Mars and make scientific measurements. MAVEN is scheduled to be launched between Nov. 18 and Dec. 7 on an Atlas V rocket. Credit: MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY

Water and carbon dioxide could have been trapped in minerals and ice below the surface, Jakosky said, but a bigger driver may have been the loss of gasses through the top of the atmosphere.

Over at least a year, Maven – an acronym for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission – will collect data during five “deep dips” through the upper atmosphere.

“We’re just brushing the edge of the atmosphere,” said Guy Beutelschies, project manager for Lockheed Martin Corp., which built the spacecraft and a predecessor on which it is based, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

To help control its flight, Maven's solar arrays are canted slightly like a gull’s wings.

On Friday, those arrays stretched 37.5 feet from tip to tip, or about the length of a school bus, inside KSC’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, where they were recently deployed for tests.

A large, dish-shaped antenna for transmitting data to Earth was sheathed in silver insulation.

Before entering the ultra-clean high-bay, mission and media personnel donned light blue bunny suits with masks, booties and gloves taped to their wrists, then they were “showered” with jets of air.

The precautions are taken to prevent spacecraft contamination or the possibility microbes could be transported to Mars.

Maven will be fueled in late October, enclosed in a protective fairing and moved to the launch pad in early November for placement atop United Launch Alliance's 19-story Atlas V rocket.

“I've got to say, these are exciting times,” Mitchell said.

27 comments:

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  3. thanks for share this nice article :)

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. That's what we all should focus on "Atmosphere" whether it is Mars or Earth, but we really don't understand that ALAS!

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