I stated in a previous post that my brother is involved on the MAVEN space project which is scheduled to launch in November. I thought I would provide a little background on the project and as the launch date approaches, give you some accounting of the launch prep and firsthand impressions of the launch itself.
T minus twenty-eight days and counting!
The goal of MAVEN is to determine the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the Martian climate through time. Where did the atmosphere – and the water – go?
MAVEN will determine how much of the Martian atmosphere has been lost over time by measuring the current rate of escape to space and gathering enough information about the relevant processes to allow extrapolation backward in time. – NASA website.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft is currently at the Kennedy Space Center undergoing thorough tests of software and hardware systems. You can view launch preparations live on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center webcams at: http://countdown.ksc.nasa.gov/elv/. (Note – This link requires a JAVA download.) These activities are in preparation for a November 18 launch date.
The MAVEN spacecraft must be able to orient itself, aim its instruments in the right direction, carry out steering maneuvers to communicate with Earth and stay on its Mars-bound course. The processing team must verify critical systems to insure the spacecraft will be able to perform these tasks during its journey. MAVEN’s steering thrusters and star-tracker guidance system were previously tested and final flight software installed. At approximately 5,400 pounds, it takes and big launch vehicle to put it into a trajectory to reach Mars in ten months.
The Atlas V 401 rocket that will launch MAVEN toward Mars arrived in Florida on Aug. 26. The rocket, built by United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colo., will stand nearly 200 feet tall when fully assembled.
According to the NASA website, MAVEN will not be rolling about on the surface looking for clues to the planet’s heritage. Instead, MAVEN will orbit high above the Red Planet in the upper atmosphere searching for signs of what changed over the eons and why.
The mission will use instruments that can pinpoint trace amounts of chemicals high above Mars. The results are expected to test theories that the sun’s energy slowly eroded nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water from the Martian atmosphere to leave it the dry, desolate world seen today.
That kinda sounds like global warming, doesn’t it? However, I want to stick to the facts and not speculate on what the mission may or may not find out. Some of the details regarding the project management are really cool. Talk about a deadline, if the Maven spacecraft was late getting to the Launch site. The entire project would need to be postponed 26 months until the planets realigned! No kidding.
For future posts, I’m trying to obtain an interview with one of the key mission participants which I hope would be a very interesting conversation. Also, I will take deeper look at some of the other Mars missions and what sorts of interesting tidbits have been gleaned from them that relate to the MAVEN mission.