NASA mission to Mars led by CU-Boulder completes major milestone

A $670 million NASA orbiting mission to probe the past climate of Mars led by the University of Colorado Boulder reached a major milestone last week when it successfully completed its Mission Critical Design Review by the space agency.

Known as the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN, the mission underwent Critical Design Review at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., July 11-15. The independent review board was comprised of members from NASA and several external organizations who met to validate the system design.

Critical Design Reviews, or CDRs, are one-time programmatic events that bridge the design and manufacturing stages of a project. A successful review means the design is validated and will meet its requirements, is backed up with solid analysis and documentation and has been proven to be safe, according to NASA officials. MAVEN's successful review grants permission to the mission team to begin manufacturing hardware.

"The Critical Design Review is a real benchmark for the MAVEN team as we progress toward launch," said CU-Boulder Professor Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator for the mission. "We are on schedule and on track, which is good news and a tribute to the hard work by all of the MAVEN team members." Jakosky also is associate director of CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

"This team continues to nail every major milestone like clockwork, as laid out three years ago when the mission was proposed," said Dave Mitchell, MAVEN project manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. "CDR success is very important because it validates that the team is ready for fabrication, assembly and test of all mission elements. It also enables us to stay on plan for launch in November 2013."

MAVEN will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. The goal of MAVEN is to determine the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the Martian climate through time. MAVEN will determine how much of the Martian atmosphere has been lost over time by measuring the current rate of escape to space and by gathering enough information about the relevant processes to allow extrapolation backward in time.

"Understanding how and why the atmosphere changed through time is an important scientific objective for Mars," said Jakosky. "MAVEN will make the right measurements to allow us to answer this question. We're in the middle of the hard work right now -- building the instruments and spacecraft -- and we're incredibly excited about the science results we're going to get from the mission," he said.

The spacecraft will carry three instrument suites. The Particles and Fields Package, built by the University of California, Berkeley with support from CU-Boulder and NASA Goddard, contains six instruments that will characterize the solar wind and the ionosphere of the planet.

The Remote Sensing Package built by CU-Boulder will determine global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer provided by NASA Goddard will measure the composition and isotopes of neutral ions.

CU-Boulder will provide science operations, build instruments and lead education and public outreach efforts. NASA Goddard will manage the project. Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colo., will build the spacecraft.

The Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley also will build instruments for the mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., will provide navigation support, the Deep Space Network, and the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

"This is good news for the University of Colorado Boulder that the MAVEN mission has reached this milestone," said CU-Boulder Vice Chancellor for Research Stein Sture. "Our Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics has partnered with NASA on successful missions to Mars dating back more than 40 years, and we are confident the MAVEN mission will return some of the most exciting data yet."

The MAVEN science team includes three LASP scientists from CU-Boulder heading instrument teams -- Nick Schneider, Frank Eparvier and Robert Ergun -- as well as a large supporting team of scientists, engineers and mission operations specialists.

MAVEN will include participation by a number of CU-Boulder graduate and undergraduate students in the coming years. Currently there are more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students working on research projects at LASP, which provides hands-on training for future careers as engineers and scientists, said Jakosky.

For more information about MAVEN go to www.nasa.gov/maven.

-CU-

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