Saturday, August 3, 2013

MAVEN makes its last stop before Mars

MAVEN spacecraft. Credit: Lockheed Martin Corp.

A NASA spacecraft has reached its last stop before embarking on a 10-month journey to Mars, arriving Friday at Kennedy Space Center to prepare for a planned November blastoff. An Air Force C-17 cargo plane delivered the MAVEN orbiter from Colorado to the former shuttle runway around 8 p.m. MAVEN is short for “Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution.” The $671 million mission, carrying three suites of instruments, will spend at least a year studying the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere and climate history.

Scientists hope to learn more about why most of Mars’ once thicker, warmer atmosphere was lost, changing a more habitable climate to its current cold, dry state.

After its delivery here, the Lockheed Martin Corp.-built orbiter was headed to KSC’s Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility for pre-launch testing.

The spacecraft is expected to move to a Cape Canaveral launch pad in early November to be hoisted atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

The launch must hit a 20-day window between Nov. 18 and Dec. 7, or else wait two years for the proper planetary alignment to return.

NASA says the mission is on track to launch Nov. 18 and begin orbiting Mars in September 2014.

NASA on Tuesday will celebrate the anniversary of its Curiosity rover touching down on the Martian surface.

After MAVEN, the space agency plans to launch the InSight stationary lander to Mars in 2016, and is studying the possible launch of another rover in 2020.

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