NASA’s next spacecraft bound for Mars—the $450 million MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) mission—completed its final Earth-bound journey yesterday, Friday, Aug. 2 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This is in preparation for the spacecraft’s interplanetary trek to the Red Planet, currently slated to take place this November atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
Secure inside a 6-ton, 4.3-meter wide and tall container, MAVEN first took the short road trip from its place of manufacture, Lockheed-Martin’s satellite plant located in Denver, to nearby Buckley Air Force Base on a flatbed trailer. The specially built container ensured that the spacecraft was kept at a constant temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity of less 30 percent, while continuous purging with nitrogen gas ensured a clean internal environment. At Buckley, the multi-instrumented orbiter and its bulky cocoon was loaded into a Boeing C-17 transport plane and flown the approximately 1,600 miles to the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center.
MAVEN is the first probe purpose-built to investigate the upper Martian atmosphere, ionosphere, and interactions with the Sun and solar wind. Researchers will use its suite of eight sensors, including spectrometers, a magnetometer, and particle detectors, in an effort to understand what happened to transform the Red Planet from the warm, wet place it used to be several billion years ago to the cold, arid world it is today.
“The data could be used to build models showing how Mars has lost the majority of its atmosphere, a phenomenon that continues to be one of the planet’s greatest mysteries,” said Paul Mahaffy, an investigator working on MAVEN.
Having arrived at KSC, MAVEN will now begin processing in readiness for launch during a 20-day window that opens on November 18, atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-401. Following a 10-month voyage to the Red Planet, the probe will enter orbit in September 2014. A five-week commissioning period will then ensue, during which the spacecraft will adjust its orbit in readiness for the start of science operations and its one-year primary mission.
“It is one step in getting to a really big question, which is, ‘Are we alone in the universe?’” Mahaffy said. “MAVEN is one step in that program for understanding life on early Mars, and we’ll try to do everything we can to understand it.”
Want to keep up-to-date with all things space? Be sure to “Like” Retro Space Images & AmericaSpace on Facebook and follow us on Twitter: @AmericaSpace