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NASA Mars mission set for launch

A SPACECRAFT that will examine the upper atmosphere of Mars in unprecedented detail is undergoing final preparations for a scheduled launch at 5:28am Sydney time (1:28 p.m. EST Monday, Nov. 18 in the USA) from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission 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 the history of planetary habitability.

“The MAVEN mission is a significant step toward unravelling 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.”

Artist's concept of MAVEN

MAVEN (artist’s concept) will arrive at Mars in September 2014 to begin a detailed study of the planet’s atmosphere and its interaction with the solar wind. Image Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre.

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

Over the course of its one-Earth-year primary mission, MAVEN will observe all of Mars’ latitudes. Orbital altitudes will range from 150 kilometres to more than 6,100 kilometres. During the primary mission, MAVEN will execute five deep dip manoeuvres, descending to an altitude of 125 kilometres, which marks the lower boundary of the planet’s upper atmosphere.

MAVEN will carry three instrument suites. The Particles and Fields Package contains six instruments to characterise the solar wind and the ionosphere of Mars. The Remote Sensing Package will determine global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. And the Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer will measure the composition of Mars’ upper atmosphere.

More information: MAVEN mission

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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