The MAVEN Particles & Fields Package (PFP) team successfully completed instrument initial post-launch power on and checkout. The PFP consists of six separate and distinct instruments, all operated through a single data processing unit. This flight hardware was built by providers at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Colorado at Boulder, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP) in Toulouse, France. The entire package is integrated and delivered by the University of California at Berkeley. All instruments have been tested and are performing as expected.
The six instruments that comprise the PFP make detailed measurements of the properties of the Martian upper atmosphere, ionosphere, the input of solar energy into the upper atmosphere, the magnetic field, and ions that have enough energy to escape from the atmosphere to space. These measurements are central to understanding the loss of atmospheric gas to space that is occurring today and to determining what the history of loss through time has been.
MAVEN's principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, Colo. The university provided science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission. Goddard manages the project and provided two of the science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. The University of California at Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory provided science instruments for the mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., provides navigation support, Deep Space Network support, and Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.
Relay Radio on Mars-Bound NASA Craft Passes Checkout
This radio hardware, the Electra UHF Transceiver on NASA's MAVEN mission to Mars, is designed to provide communication relay support for robots on the surface of Mars.
The team operating NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission successfully completed, on Feb. 19, 2014, the initial post-launch power-on and checkout of the spacecraft's Electra Ultra High Frequency Transceiver. This wraps up the initial checkouts of all payloads on the MAVEN spacecraft, with everything performing as expected.
MAVEN will examine the upper atmosphere of Mars to provide understanding about processes that led to the loss of much of the original Martian atmosphere. Data and analysis could tell planetary scientists the history of climate change on the Red Planet and provide further information on the history of planetary habitability. The spacecraft was launched on Nov. 18, 2013, and will enter orbit around Mars in September 2014.
The Electra radio payload is part of the NASA Mars Exploration Program's Mars Relay Network. This network is composed of orbiters, including NASA's Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, that provide reliable, high-data-rate relay communications links to landers on the surface of Mars, including NASA's Opportunity and Curiosity rovers. Using relay via orbiters, compared with the rovers' capability to transmit directly to Earth, greatly increases science data return from the Martian surface. MAVEN will be available to provide relay services on a contingency basis during its prime science mission and may routinely provide relay support during an anticipated extended mission. MAVEN's Electra payload is provided and operated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Since launch, the mission team has checked out MAVEN's three suites of science instruments. The Particles and Fields Package contains six instruments to characterize the solar wind and the ionosphere of Mars. The Remote Sensing Package will determine global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer will measure the composition of Mars' upper atmosphere.
MAVEN's principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, Colo. The university provided science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., manages the project and provided two of the science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. The University of California at Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory provided science instruments for the mission. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, provides navigation support and Deep Space Network support, in addition to the Electra hardware and operations.
MAVEN Solar Wind Ion Analyzer Will Look at Key Player in Mars Atmosphere Loss
This past November, NASA launched the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission in the hope of understanding how and why the planet has been losing its atmosphere over billions of years.
One instrument aboard the spacecraft will study a special component of the Martian atmosphere to help solve this mystery. By studying ions, or small electrically charged particles, in and above the Red Planet's tenuous atmosphere, the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer will help answer why Mars has gradually lost much of its atmosphere, developing into a frozen, barren planet.
The MAVEN Solar Wind Ion Analyzer will study ions in the Martian atmosphere, a key component for better understanding the planet's evolution.
Once the MAVEN spacecraft is orbiting Mars, the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA)—which was designed and built at the University of California, Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL)—will spend much of its time measuring the ions in the solar wind. Released continuously from the sun's atmosphere, the solar wind travels toward Mars at speeds around a million miles per hour, carrying with it a magnetic field that originates inside the sun. It is composed of charged particles that interact with neutral gas particles in Mars' upper atmosphere, giving them the ability to escape from Mars' gravitational pull.
Scientists think the interactions between solar wind ions and Mars' atmospheric particles are a key factor allowing the particles to escape, a process that gradually strips the planet of its atmosphere and has done so for billions of years.
SWIA instrument lead Jasper Halekas of SSL said scientists could apply SWIA's measurements of solar wind ions with the measurements of the atmosphere's escaping gases the mission's other instruments make, making connections between the two that will paint the picture of how the atmosphere has evolved.
"By combining SWIA measurements with measurements of escaping gases we can parameterize the loss of atmospheric gases from Mars as a function of solar wind conditions," Halekas said. "Ultimately, we want to know where the atmosphere, especially water, went, how it left, and what Mars has looked like over its entire history."
SWIA will specifically be measuring the solar wind speed and density, two critical factors that determine how its ions interact with the planet's atmospheric particles. Halekas said although the solar wind itself isn't packed with ions, its blazing speed ensures that a huge number of ions are hitting the Martian atmosphere, and interacting with the atmosphere's particles, every second.
MAVEN deputy principle investigator Janet Luhmann, also at SSL, said by measuring the solar wind's density and velocity, SWIA could help determine whether gusts of denser, faster solar wind contribute to greater atmospheric loss. This information will be used to estimate losses in the past, when solar wind gusts may have been prevalent thanks to an early, more active sun.
Once they hit the planet's atmosphere, the solar wind's ions play several critical roles in aiding particles to escape from Mars' atmosphere. The solar wind is made up of both electrons, which are very small, negatively charged particles, and ions, which are larger positively charged particles like ionized hydrogen and helium.
Halekas said both ions and electrons could start the process of particle escape by transforming the atmosphere's neutral particles into charged ions. This can occur through processes called charge exchange and impact ionization. Ultraviolet sunlight also transforms many atmospheric particles into ions. Once the atmospheric particles become charged, they can interact with the solar wind's magnetic field and be accelerated and carried away from the planet; ions that have been removed like this are called pickup ions. The ionization step is critical, since the original neutral particles don't respond to the solar wind magnetic field and generally have too little energy to escape.
Halekas said although the solar wind electrons contribute to particle escape by stripping electrons from some of the neutral atmospheric particles, it's the solar wind ions that play the more critical role in giving the particles enough energy to escape.
The ionized gases in the solar wind—known as plasma—can interact with the wind's magnetic field to form an electric field, and accelerate the newly charged particles in the atmosphere with enough energy for them to escape. While both the electrons and ions form this plasma, Halekas said the ions are in some ways more important, thanks to their larger mass.
Although the solar wind ions are travelling at the same velocity as the electrons, they have a larger mass than the electrons. This gives them a greater momentum, which is created from an object's mass and velocity. Therefore, the solar wind ions are able to transfer more of the necessary momentum to the newly formed atmospheric ions themselves, providing them with more energy to escape.
"The electrons themselves probably don't do as much work in driving escape," Halekas said. "They can ionize some atmospheric gases through electron impact ionization, but they won't drive escape through momentum transfer as the ions can."
Because the solar wind's ions play key parts in interacting with other solar wind components, like the electrons and magnetic field, Halekas said SWIA complements several of the other MAVEN instruments.
In order to determine how solar wind ions work with the magnetic fields in the near-Mars environment to aid particle escape, SWIA will work with the MAVEN magnetometer. Together with the solar wind's magnetic field, the ions interact with Mars' upper atmosphere, forming a network of charged particles and magnetic field lines around Mars called a magnetosphere.
"If there were no solar wind ions or magnetic field, the Martian atmosphere would just be a big ball of partially ionized gas sitting in space," Halekas said. "It is the incoming solar wind ions and magnetic field that compress and warp the ionized gas into the teardrop-shaped structure we call a magnetosphere, which any escaping particles must travel through to leave the system."
Unlike Earth, Mars has no global magnetic field. Instead, it has many localized magnetic fields that can disturb the magnetosphere structure. But Halekas said the overall shape was still broadly similar to Earth's magnetosphere.
Since charged particles respond to magnetic forces, the newly charged atmospheric particles can follow paths that depend on the solar wind's magnetic fields. In addition, these magnetic field lines can connect with the planet's own magnetic fields generated in its crust, providing different routes for particles to travel either towards or away from Mars.
Halekas said SWIA was perhaps most complementary to the Suprathermal and Thermal Ion Composition instrument (STATIC), which will measure the planet's ions—including those escaping—while SWIA focuses on the ions from the solar wind. SWIA will also work closely with the Solar Wind Electron Analyzer (SWEA), which will measure the electrons in the solar wind and how they affect particle escape.
"Ultimately, all the instruments on MAVEN complement each other," Halekas said. "The payload was very carefully designed to work together."
Although SWIA will be operating continuously throughout the mission, Halekas said its most useful measurements would come from altitudes greater than 190 miles (305 km) above the planet's surface, outside of the main bulk of the atmosphere.
Equipped with a field of view that covers about 70 percent of the sky and is centered on the Sun, SWIA will be able to measure the entire distribution of solar wind ions.
Because SWIA will provide key insight into how solar wind behaves, MAVEN scientist Robert Lillis at SSL said the instrument would be critical in helping understand why Mars doesn't have the dense atmosphere required to maintain life-supporting properties like liquid water on its surface, and whether it ever did.
"The history of habitability and atmospheric loss on Mars are linked, and to decipher this history we need to understand how rates of loss of gas from Mars today depend on the properties of solar wind buffeting the upper atmosphere," Lillis said. "SWIA will be one of our sets of eyes aboard MAVEN, constantly monitoring the flow of charged particles from the sun that has helped shape the patterns of atmospheric escape from Mars over billions of years."
Since its development, Halekas said SWIA has undergone many tests and calibrations to ensure it works correctly in space Halekas is responsible for these calibrations, and said there are always unexpected things that will crop up when an instrument is first turned on in space.
"No matter how much testing we perform in advance, and we do a staggering amount, there are inevitably things that we just can't plan for or simulate in a lab," Halekas said. "I anticipate that the first few weeks after SWIA is turned on in flight and the first few weeks after arrival at Mars will therefore be especially exciting and challenging, as we learn how to best operate the instrument in the Martian environment."
Halekas said that no matter what unexpected challenges the SWIA team might face, he is confident that the instrument will perform well, and looks forward to seeing the instrument in action as it helps unlock the Red Planet's mysteries.
"Every stage of the mission has been, and will continue to be, a learning experience and a new and exciting challenge," Halekas said. "I'll be ramping up to support the team's scientists in their investigations of all of our observations, with the goal of answering all the big picture questions of MAVEN, and more."
MAVEN's principal investigator is based at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at University of Colorado, Boulder. The university provided science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission.
Goddard manages the project and provided two of the science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. The University of California at Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory provided science instruments for the mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., provides navigation support, Deep Space Network support, and Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.
MAVEN feiert 100 Tage vor erreichen des Mars Orbit am Freitag, dem 13.Juni 2014
MAVEN—NASA’s next Red Planet orbiter—marks 100 days from Mars orbit insertion (MOI) engine firing on Friday the 13th of June 2014. MAVEN arrives at Mars on Sept. 21, 2014. Credit: NASA
Are you Friggatriskaidekaphobic (suffering from the irrational fear of Friday the 13th)?
Supremely defying any hints of superstition, the fearless team directing MAVEN—NASA’s next orbiter bound for the Red Planet—celebrated this Friday the 13th of June as a noteworthy mission milestone marking just 100 days to the crucial Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) engine firing scheduled for Sept. 21, 2014.
“Happy Friday the 13th, everyone!” the team excitedly announced.
See above NASA’s cool new mission poster released for the agency’s newest Mars orbiter, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN), which will investigate the planet’s thin upper atmosphere and begin solving the riddles of Mars’ climate mysteries, atmospheric loss, and habitability.
“Where did the water go and where did the carbon dioxide go from the early atmosphere? What were the mechanisms?” asks Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN’s Principal Investigator from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
“The spacecraft remains on schedule for Mars orbit insertion on September 21, 2014,” the MAVEN team reports.
As of today, June 15, it’s T-Minus 98 days and counting to MOI!
On June 12, MAVEN was 103,999,786 km (64,622,471 miles) from Earth, with an Earth-centered velocity of 17.0 km/s (10.5 mi/s or 38,000 mph) and a Sun-centered velocity of 23.2 km/s (14.4 mi/s or 51,800 mph).
“I’m delighted that we’re operating in space so well,” Jakosky told me. “We’re on our way!”
Each day it gets 1.4 million km farther away from Earth.
MAVEN has now traveled over 515,271,717 km (320,174,387 miles) on its heliocentric transfer path. The spacecraft is currently less than 26,700,000 km (16,500,000 miles) from Mars.
See MAVEN’s trajectory route map below.
MAVEN Trajectory Route Map on June 12, 2014. Credit: NASA
But before MAVEN arrives at Mars, it must first complete a series of five critical Trajectory Correction Maneuvers (TCMs). These thruster firings ensure the craft is aimed on the correct course through interplanetary space.
“The second Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM-2) occurred on Feb. 26,” said Jakosky.
TCM-3 is scheduled for July 23.
The $671 Million MAVEN spacecraft’s goal is to study Mars upper atmosphere to explore how the planet may have lost its atmosphere and water over billions of years.
The do-or-die Mars orbital insertion maneuver is slated for approximately 10 p.m. EDT on Sept. 21, 2014, when MAVEN will rendezvous with the Red Planet following a 10-month interplanetary voyage from Earth.
Engineers have designed MAVEN to execute the firing of six orbital insertion thrusters for 38 minutes each to slow and brake the craft into Mars orbit. The 45-pound thrusters will place MAVEN onto an initial 35-hour orbit at a 75-degree inclination. During this phase, the closest point in the orbit to the planet is 236 miles (380 km).
A series of five additional engine burns follows during a five-week “commissioning phase” to maneuver MAVEN into its final 4.5-hour scientific mapping orbit.
Over the course of its one-Earth-year primary mission, MAVEN will observe all of Mars’ latitudes at altitudes ranging from periapsis of 93 miles (150 km) to an apoapsis of more than 3,800 miles (6220 km).
MAVEN will execute five deep dip maneuvers during the first year, descending to an altitude of 78 miles. This marks the lower boundary of the planet’s upper atmosphere.
All of MAVEN’s science instruments were successfully activated by February 2014. Instrument checkouts and calibrations are continuing along the way.
The 5,400-pound MAVEN probe carries nine sensors in three instrument suites to study why and exactly when did Mars undergo the radical climatic transformation.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to Mars and starting our science!” Jakosky told me.
MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) captured its first view of Mars on May 21, 2014, at a distance of 35 million km (~22 million miles). It detected the planet and obtained a spectrum of Mars’ sunlit disk in the mid-UV range. See spectrograph below.
MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) Gets Its First View Of Mars. IUVS made calibration observations of Mars on May 21, 2014 at a distance of 35 million km (~22 million miles). It detected the planet and obtained a spectrum of Mars’ sunlit disk in the mid-UV range. Credit: NASA/LASP
IUVS next measurements are planned soon after MOI.
MAVEN aims to discover the history of water and habitability stretching back over billions of years on Mars. It will answer key questions about the evolution of Mars, its geology, and the potential for the evolution of life.
The science instruments will measure current rates of atmospheric loss to determine how and when Mars lost its atmosphere and water.
“MAVEN is an astrobiology mission,” says Jakosky.
Mars was once wet billions of years ago, but no longer. Now it’s a cold arid world, not exactly hospitable to life.
“We want to determine what were the drivers of that change?” said Jakosky. “What is the history of Martian habitability, climate change and the potential for life?”
MAVEN thundered to space nearly seven months ago on Nov. 18, 2013, following a flawless blastoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 atop a powerful United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
The probe remains on course to join Earth’s invasion fleet at Mars currently comprising three orbiters and two rovers (Curiosity & Opportunity) from NASA and ESA.
MAVEN is not alone in the frigid vacuum of space. She is joined by India’s MOM orbiter likewise in pursuit of Mars. Together they will fortify Earth’s armada to seven spacecraft.
MOM reaches the Red Planets vicinity on Sept. 24, just two days after MAVEN’s arrival.
NASA also recently gave the go-ahead to begin construction of InSight, America’s next Mars lander that will drill far deeper into Mars’ surface than ever before and is due to blastoff in 2016. Read my story here.
Meanwhile, NASA’s one-ton Curiosity rover is trundling across the alien surface inside Gale Crater and capturing stunning new panoramas of towering Mount Sharp and the treacherous sand dunes below.
Mount Sharp is the rover’s ultimate destination, and the team hopes to reach the foothills later this year that lead to the sedimentary rocks at the base of the mysterious mountain which holds clues to the habitability of the Red Planet.
Curiosity said “Farewell Kimberley” after drilling her third bore hole deep into a slab of Martian sandstone and is now analyzing the rock powders cored from the interior.
Scientists from MAVEN, Curiosity, Opportunity, and all the orbiters will work in concert utilizing all the data to elucidate the history of Mars’ potential for supporting life—past and present.
Stay tuned here for continuing developments regarding Earth’s “Missions to Mars.”
NASA’s MAVEN Orbiter 3 Weeks and 4 Million Miles from Mars
NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft is depicted in orbit around an artistic rendition of planet Mars, which is shown in transition from its ancient, water-covered past, to the cold, dry, dusty world that it has become today. Credit: NASA
Now just 3 weeks and 4 million miles (6 million kilometers) from rendezvous with Mars, NASA’s ground breaking Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter is tracking precisely on course for the crucial Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) engine firing slated for September 21, 2014.
MAVEN will investigate Mars transition from its ancient, water-covered past, to the cold, dry, dusty world that it has become today.
It’s been a picture perfect flight so far during the ten month interplanetary voyage from Earth to Mars. So far it has traveled 93% of the path to the Red Planet.
As of August 29th, MAVEN was 198 million kilometers (123 million miles) from Earth and 6.6 million kilometers (4.1 million miles) from Mars. Its velocity is 22.22 kilometers per second (49,705 miles per hour) as it moves on a heliocentric arc around the Sun.
“MAVEN continues on a smooth journey to Mars. All spacecraft systems are operating nominally,” reported David Mitchell, MAVEN Project Manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in an update.
In fact, MAVEN’s navigation from Earth to Mars has been so perfect that the team will likely cancel the final Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM) that had been planned for September 12.
The team will make a final decision on whether TCM-4 is necessary on Sept. 4.
Previously the team also cancelled TCM-3 that had been planned for July 23 because it was “not warranted.”
“We are tracking right where we want to be,” says Mitchell.
TCM-1 and TCM-2 took place as scheduled in December 2013 and February 2014, Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN’s Principal Investigator told Universe Today.
These thruster firings ensure the craft is aimed on the correct course through interplanetary space.
See MAVEN’s trajectory route map below.
Maven spacecraft trajectory to Mars. Credit: NASA
“Since we are now in a ‘pre-Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) moratorium’, all instruments are powered off until after we arrive at the Red Planet,” according to Mitchell.
Although MAVEN’s instrument are resting, the team has no time to rest.
They must ensure that all is in readiness for the MOI burn and held a review at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with the Deep Space Network (DSN) team and confirmed its readiness to support the engine firing on MOI night.
The entire team also conducted a readiness rehearsal, comprising Lockheed Martin operations center in Denver, Colorado, the backup operations center at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“The review was successful; DSN is ready to support us on MOI night,” says Mitchell.
The do or die MOI maneuver is scheduled for approximately 10 p.m. EDT on Sept. 21, 2014 when MAVEN will rendezvous with the Red Planet following a ten month interplanetary voyage from Earth.
The $671 Million MAVEN spacecraft’s goal is to study Mars upper atmosphere to explore how the Red Planet lost most of its atmosphere and water over billions of years.
The MAVEN probe carries nine sensors in three instrument suites to study why and exactly when did Mars undergo the radical climatic transformation.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to Mars and starting our science!” Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN’s Principal Investigator from the University of Colorado at Boulder, told me.
MAVEN aims to discover the history of water and habitability stretching back over billions of years on Mars.
It will measure current rates of atmospheric loss to determine how and when Mars lost its atmosphere and water.
MAVEN thundered to space over nine months ago on Nov. 18, 2013 following a flawless blastoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 atop a powerful Atlas V rocket and thus began a 10 month interplanetary voyage from Earth to the Red Planet.
MAVEN is streaking to Mars along with ISRO’s MOM orbiter, which arrives a few days later on September 24, 2014.
MOM and MAVEN will join Earth’s fleet of 3 current orbiters from NASA and ESA as well as NASA’s pair of sister surface rovers Curiosity and Opportunity.
Meanwhile last week, NASA announced it was proceeding with development of the mammoth SLS heavy lift rocket that will one day launch astronauts to Mars in the Orion capsule.
NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Makes Final Preparations For Mars
On Sept. 21, 2014, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft will complete roughly 10 months of travel and enter orbit around the Red Planet.
The orbit-insertion maneuver will be carried out as the spacecraft approaches Mars, wrapping up an interplanetary journey of 442 million miles (711 million kilometers). Six thruster engines will fire briefly for a “settling” burn that damps out deviations in pointing. Then the six main engines will ignite two by two in quick succession and will burn for 33 minutes to slow the craft, allowing it to be captured in an elliptical orbit.
This milestone will mark the culmination of 11 years of concept and development for MAVEN, setting the stage for the mission’s science phase, which will investigate Mars as no other mission has.
“We’re the first mission devoted to observing the upper atmosphere of Mars and how it interacts with the sun and the solar wind,” said Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator for MAVEN at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
These observations will help scientists determine how much gas from Mars’ atmosphere has been lost to space throughout the planet’s history and which processes have driven that loss.
Procedures to line up MAVEN for proper orbit insertion began shortly after MAVEN launched in November 2013. These included two trajectory-correction maneuvers, performed in December 2013 and February 2014.
Calibration of the mission’s three suites of science instruments – the Particles and Fields Package, the Remote Sensing Package and the Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer – was completed during the cruise phase to Mars.
“Every day at Mars is gold,” said David Mitchell, MAVEN’s project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The early checks of instrument and spacecraft systems during cruise phase enable us to move into the science collection phase shortly after MAVEN arrives at Mars.”
The voyage also gave the team an opportunity to take data on the interplanetary solar wind using the Fields and Particles Package.
Meanwhile, teams in California, Colorado and Maryland carried out rehearsals of the entire orbit insertion twice. The science team also performed a weeklong simulation of the planning and implementation required to obtain science data. Two months prior to arrival at Mars, all instruments were turned off, in preparation for orbit insertion.
During orbit insertion, MAVEN will be controlled by its on-board computers. By that time, the team will have uploaded the most up-to-date information about the spacecraft’s location, velocity and orientation. The insertion instructions will have been updated, and the fuel valves will be open, to warm the fuel to an operating temperature of about 77 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit (25 to 26 degrees Celsius).
If all goes well, the spacecraft will need no further commands from the ground. The important exception is that final trajectory corrections could be made, if needed, 24 hours or 6 hours prior to insertion. That would only happen, however, if the navigation team concluded that the spacecraft was coming in at too low of an altitude.
Otherwise, during the last 24 hours, the spacecraft will carry out preprogrammed procedures to make all systems as “quiet” as possible, which is the safest condition for orbit insertion. These steps include automatically executing a new version of the fault protection, which will tell the craft how to react to an on-board component anomaly leading up to or during orbit insertion.
In addition, the spacecraft will have to reorient itself so that the thrusters are pointed in the correct direction for the burn. In this final orientation, MAVEN’s high-gain antenna, which is used for most communication with the spacecraft, will point away from Earth. During that period, MAVEN’s low-gain antenna will be used for limited communication capacity at a reduced data rate.
At last, the insertion will begin. For the next 33 minutes, the craft will burn more than half the fuel onboard as it enters an orbit 236 miles (380 kilometers) above the northern pole.
Three minutes after the engines turn off, the MAVEN computers will reinstate the normal safeguards, reorient the spacecraft to point the high-gain antenna toward Earth, and reestablish normal communications. At that point, MAVEN will transmit the data obtained during the insertion back to Earth, along with information on the state of the spacecraft, and the MAVEN team will learn if everything worked properly.
“Then, there will be a sigh of relief,” said Carlos Gomez-Rosa, MAVEN mission and science operations manager at Goddard.
Later, the team will upload new instructions for the science portion of the mission, as well as turn on and check out the science instruments.
New view of Mars
The team will perform six maneuvers to move the spacecraft from its insertion orbit into the four-and-a-half-hour orbit that will be used to gather science data.
This science orbit will be elliptical, with the spacecraft flying about 90 miles (approximately 150 kilometers) above the surface at periapsis, or closest point, in the orbit to “sniff” the upper atmosphere. At apoapsis, the farthest point from the surface, MAVEN will pull back 3,900 miles (roughly 6,300 kilometers) to observe the entire atmosphere.
With each pass, MAVEN will make measurements of the composition, structure and escape of atmospheric gases.
“MAVEN’s orbit through the tenuous top of the atmosphere will be unique among Mars missions,” said Jakosky. “We’ll get a new perspective on the planet and the history of the Martian climate, liquid water and planetary habitability by microbes.”
CU-Boulder to host free event Sept. 21 to watch orbit insertion of Mars spacecraft
The public is invited to attend a watch party at the University of Colorado Boulder on Sunday, Sept. 21, when NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft, designed to understand past climate change on Mars, inserts itself into orbit after a 10-month journey to the planet.
The orbital insertion, the most important maneuver of the mission, will involve firing six thruster engines to shed velocity from the spacecraft, allowing it to be captured into Mars orbit. Televised by NASA, the event will be shown at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) Space Technology Building on the East Campus.
CU-Boulder is leading NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN mission. The event is free and open to the public, although seating will be limited. The doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and there is free parking. The orbit insertion, expected to last 34 minutes, will begin at 7:50 p.m. and end at 8:24 p.m.
From 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. there will be brief presentations by four LASP researchers on the mission: MAVEN Remote Sensing Package Manager Mark Lankton; MAVEN Extreme Ultraviolet Sensor Lead Scientist Frank Eparvier; MAVEN Science Data Management and Co-Investigator David Brain; and MAVEN Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph team member Mike Chaffin.
The primary goal of NASA’s MAVEN mission is to understand how the climate changed from a warm, wet and potentially habitable environment for life several billion years ago to the cold, dry and inhospitable planet observed today, according to CU-Boulder Professor Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator on the mission.
In addition, there will be a watch party at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science at 7 p.m. on Sept. 21 regarding the MAVEN orbit insertion. The program will include live NASA TV coverage and a science panel hosted by museum Curator of Planetary Science Steve Lee and which will involve CU-Boulder MAVEN science team member Justin Deighan as well as representatives from Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, which is leading MAVEN mission operations, and United Launch Alliance in Centennial, which provided the launch vehicle.
Quelle: University of Colorado Boulder
NASA Television Orbit Insertion Coverage
NASA Television coverage of the MAVEN orbit insertion begins at 9:30 p.m. EDT and concludes at 10:45 p.m. on Sept. 21. The orbital insertion is targeted to begin at 9:37 p.m. The program will be carried on NTV-1 (Public) and NTV-2 (Education). A clean feed for media will be carried on NTV-3 (Media Channel). The media feed will contain views of the MAVEN Mission Support Area only, without graphics or interviews.
A post-orbit insertion news conference is targeted for about two hours after orbital insertion.
NASA Mars Spacecraft Ready for Sept. 21 Orbit Insertion