NASA's MAVEN continues to advance Mars science and telecommunications relay efforts
With a suite of new national and international spacecraft primed to explore the Red Planet after their arrival next month, NASA's MAVEN mission is ready to provide support and continue its study of the Martian atmosphere.
MAVEN launched in November 2013 and entered the Martian atmosphere roughly a year later. Since that time, MAVEN has made fundamental contributions to understanding the history of the Martian atmosphere and climate. A few science highlights include:
- Determination that the bulk of the Martian atmosphere has been lost to space through time, driving changes in the Mars climate and the ability to support life at the surface.
- Characterization of the mechanisms by which gas is stripped away from the atmosphere to space and of the role of solar storms hitting Mars in enhancing the escape rate.
- There is significant unexpected variability in the loss rate of hydrogen to space through the seasons, which has important implications for the history of water.
- Discovery of two new types of aurora at Mars, and characterization of all three types of aurora and of their causal mechanisms.
- First comprehensive measurements of winds in the Martian upper atmosphere, indicating substantial (and unexpected) interaction between different layers in the atmosphere.
- Revealed the unexpected complexity and dynamic nature of the Martian magnetosphere, with its influence on the behavior of the upper atmosphere (including variability in escape and occurrence of aurora).
Now with arrival of the Perseverance rover to the surface of the planet in February, MAVEN will continue to carry out both relay communications support for NASA's surface missions and joint data analysis with these missions and with the orbiters already at Mars. In addition, MAVEN will be working on collaborative data analysis with the current missions and with the missions about to arrive at Mars.
Last year, in preparation for providing communications relay support, MAVEN reduced the highest altitude in its orbit using an aerobraking maneuver, a process taking advantage of the Martian upper atmosphere to place a small amount of drag on the spacecraft. MAVEN also adjusted the orientation of its orbit, to better monitor data from Mars 2020 during its entry, descent and landing.
When not conducting relay communications, MAVEN will continue to study the structure and composition of the upper atmosphere of Mars. MAVEN has enough fuel to operate until at least 2030.
MAVEN's principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Boulder, which also leads science operations. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN project. Lockheed Martin Space built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, as well as the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.