Colorado’s MAVEN Successfully Placed Into Mars Orbit

Members of the mission team at the Lockheed Martin Mission Support Area in Littleton, Colorado, celebrate after successfully inserting NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft into orbit around Mars. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

Members of the mission team at the Lockheed Martin Mission Support Area in Littleton, Colorado, celebrate after successfully inserting NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft into orbit around Mars. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

Denver, Colorado. September. 22, 2014 – NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, successfully entered Mars’ orbit at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, September 21. The spacecraft’s flight operations are controlled by a team at Lockheed Martin’s Mission Support Area near Denver, Colorado. MAVEN’s principal investigator, Bruce Jakosky, is based at The University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP).

MAVEN’s goal is to explore Mars’ upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and interactions with the sun and solar wind. Scientists will use MAVEN data to determine how much gas from the atmosphere has been lost to space throughout the planet’s history. Understanding atmospheric loss will give scientists insight into the history of Mars’ atmosphere and climate and help determine how this once-habitable planet became so desolate over time.

“As the first orbiter dedicated to studying Mars’ upper atmosphere, MAVEN will greatly improve our understanding of the history of the Martian atmosphere, how the climate has changed over time, and how that has influenced the evolution of the surface and the potential habitability of the planet,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “It also will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s.”

After a 10-month journey, confirmation of successful orbit insertion was received from MAVEN data observed at the Lockheed Martin operations center in Littleton, Colorado, as well as from tracking data monitored at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) navigation facility in Pasadena, California. The telemetry and tracking data were received by NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna station in Canberra, Australia.

“It’s taken 11 years from the original concept for MAVEN to now having a spacecraft in orbit at Mars,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU/LASP). “I’m delighted to be here safely and successfully, and looking forward to starting our science mission.”

MAVEN Principal Investigator Bruce Jakosky reflects the excitement the entire MAVEN team felt after the spacecraft's successful insertion to Mars orbit. Image Credit: Colorado Space News

MAVEN Principal Investigator Bruce Jakosky reflects the excitement the entire MAVEN team felt after the spacecraft’s successful insertion to Mars orbit. Image Credit: Colorado Space News

This week, MAVEN begins a six-week commissioning phase that includes maneuvering into its final science orbit and testing the instruments and science-mapping commands. MAVEN will then begin its one Earth-year primary mission, taking measurements of the composition, structure and escape of gases in Mars’ upper atmosphere and its interaction with the sun and solar wind.
MAVEN will orbit the Red Planet in an elliptical orbit. At its closest point, MAVEN will be flying in the upper-atmosphere about 90 miles (150 km) above the surface. At its farthest point, the spacecraft will be about 3,900 miles (6,300 km) above the surface, which will allow it to observe the entire planet.

The primary mission includes five “deep-dip” campaigns, in which MAVEN’s periapsis, or lowest orbit altitude, will be lowered from 93 miles (150 kilometers) to about 77 miles (125 kilometers). These measurements will provide information down to where the upper and lower atmospheres meet, giving scientists a full profile of the upper tier.

MAVEN launched November 18, 2013 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying three instrument packages. The Particles and Fields Package, built by the University of California at Berkeley with support from CU/LASP and Goddard contains six instruments that will characterize the solar wind and the ionosphere of the planet. The Remote Sensing Package, built by CU/LASP, will identify characteristics present throughout the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, provided by Goddard, will measure the composition and isotopes of atomic particles.

CU/LASP provided two science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission. The University of California at Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory also provided four science instruments for the mission. Goddard manages the MAVEN project. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. JPL provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, as well as Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.