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NASA gears up for MAVEN mission to probe Martian atmosphere

The 5,410-pound bus sized spacecraft vehicle will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket on a 10-month journey to Mars.

US space agency NASA is gearing up for a satellite mission to probe the Martian atmosphere on the Red Planet!

Scheduled for a 1:28 p.m. EST Monday, Nov. 18 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution satellite (MAVEN) is currently going through the final preparations and testing before the liftoff.

MAVEN, intends to examine in exceptional detail the upper atmosphere of Mars that will provide researchers with a more detailed look into the speed and mechanism by which atmospheric gases are being lost today.

With the help of the data analysis, planetary scientists hope to get an insight into the history of the planet's climatic change and geologic records. This would in turn provide them with crucial information on whether life could have survived on Mars and what kind of planets outside our own solar system may support life.

“Launch is an important event, but it's only a step along the way to getting the science measurements,” said Bruce Jakosky, the MAVEN principal investigator and a professor at CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. “We're excited about the science we'll be doing, and are anxious now to get to Mars.”

Primary mission of MAVEN
The 5,410-pound bus sized spacecraft vehicle will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket on a 10-month journey to Mars. After arriving at Mars on 22 September 2014, MAVEN will fall into its elliptical science orbit.

During its mission, MAVEN is due to spend a year flying through the thin Martian atmosphere, crossing all of Mars’ latitudes. The altitudes will range from 93 miles to more than 3,800 miles.

MAVEN will complete five deep-dip maneuvers, plunging down until it is 77 miles above the planet’s surface. It will be the lowest boundary an orbiting spacecraft has been around the planet’s upper atmosphere, with previous missions orbiting at more than three times that altitude.

“The MAVEN mission is a significant step toward unraveling the planetary puzzle about Mars' past and present environments,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The knowledge we gain will build on past and current missions examining Mars and will help inform future missions to send humans to Mars.”

Scientific instruments
Designed as the first spacecraft to make direct measurements of the Martian atmosphere, MAVEN will carry three instrument suites. The Particles and Fields Package, built by the University of California at Berkeley with backing from CU-Boulder’s LASP and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., contains six instruments to distinguish the solar wind and the ionosphere of Mars.

The Remote Sensing Package created by LASP, will evaluate global traits of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, built by Goddard, will measure the components of Mars’ upper atmosphere.

“When we proposed and were selected to develop MAVEN back in 2008, we set our sights on Nov. 18, 2013, as our first launch opportunity,” said Dave Mitchell, MAVEN project manager at Goddard. “Now we are poised to launch on that very day. That's quite an accomplishment by the team.”