NASA mission led by CU-Boulder will be first to explore Martian upper atmosphere

A NASA spacecraft that will examine the upper atmosphere of Mars in unprecedented detail is undergoing final preparations for a scheduled 1:28 p.m. EST Monday, Nov. 18 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, or MAVEN, led by the University of Colorado Boulder will examine specific processes on Mars that led to the loss of much of its atmosphere. Data and analysis could tell planetary scientists the history of climate change on the red planet and provide further information on planetary habitability.

“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.”

The 5,410-pound spacecraft will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket on a 10-month journey to Mars. After arriving at Mars in September 2014, MAVEN will settle into its elliptical science orbit.

Over the course of its one -year primary mission, MAVEN will traverse all of Mars' latitudes. Altitudes will range from 93 miles to more than 3,800 miles. During the primary mission, MAVEN will execute five deep-dip maneuvers, descending to an altitude of 78 miles. This marks the lower boundary of the planet's upper atmosphere.

“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.”

The MAVEN spacecraft will carry three instrument suites. The Particles and Fields Package, built by the University of California at Berkeley with support from CU-Boulder’s LASP and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., contains six instruments to characterize the solar wind and the ionosphere of Mars. The Remote Sensing Package, built by LASP, will determine global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, built by Goddard, will measure the composition 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.”

In addition to providing science instruments, CU-Boulder is leading science operations, education and public outreach for the mission.

Goddard manages the project and provides 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 provides 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.

For more information about MAVEN visit http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/maven/ or http://www.nasa.gov/maven.

Contact:
Bruce Jakosky, 303-492-8004
Bruce.jakosky@lasp.colorado.edu
Dwayne Brown, NASA Headquarters, Washington 202-358-1726
Dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov
Nancy Neal Jones, Goddard Space Flight Center, 301-286-0039
Nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov
Jim Scott, CU-Boulder media relations, 303-492-3114
Jim.scott@colorado.edu

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