NASA MAVEN Arrives at Launch Pad and Set Atop Atlas 5 Rocket

First Posted: Nov 09, 2013 09:07 AM EST

NASA's Mars-bound MAVEN spacecraft, designed and built at Colorado, finally arrived at the launch pad and is set to fire the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket on November 18.

NASA's next Mars-bound spacecraft- the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) is undergoing final preparations for its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. The two hour launch window extends from 1.28-3.28 P.M. EST.

NASA TV and the agency website will carry the launch commentary coverage as well as the prelaunch media briefings.

Under NASA's Mars Scout Program, MAVEN is the second mission that will take key measurements of the Martian upper atmosphere to improve the scientists' understanding of the Red planet's climatic history. This is the first spacecraft that is designed to explore and understand the Martian upper atmosphere.  The main aim of the spacecraft is to examine how the loss of Mars atmosphere to space determined the history of water on the surface.

The 5,410-pound spacecraft will head to the Red planet for its 10-month journey. After arriving at Mars in September 2014, MAVEN will settle into its elliptical science orbit. The mission's altitude will vary from 93 miles to more than 3,800 miles. MAVEN will observe all the latitudes of Mars and it will carry five deep dip manoeuvres during its primary mission, descending to an altitude of 78 miles that marks the lower boundary of the Mars's upper atmosphere.

"Launch is an important event, but it's only a step along the way to getting the science measurements," Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (CU/LASP) in Boulder has  said earlier in a press release. "We're excited about the science we'll be doing, and are anxious now to get to Mars."

Aboard MAVEN is three instruments namely, the 'Particles and Fields Package' given by the University of California at Berkeley with support from CU/LASP and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.. This basically consists of six instruments that will help in characterizing the solar wind and the ionosphere of the Red Planet. It is also carrying the 'Remote Sensing Package' that is built by the CU/LASP that help in determining the global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. Last is 'The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer' that will help in measuring the composition of the Mar's upper atmosphere.

The move and hoisting operations highlight another milestone attained by NASA as everything proceeded on schedule despite the U.S. government shutdown.

Today, MAVEN will be powered up for a health check and on Monday, the controllers will run the Integrated System Test to ensure both MAVEN and ATLAS V are functioning well.

On November 5, India's Mars Orbiter Mission was successfully launched at 4.08 a.m. EST from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikora Island. MOM is India's first inter-planetary mission. Scientists from the Indian Space Research Organization celebrated the successful launch of the Mars orbiter Mangalyaan (Mars Craft) that is expected to start orbiting Mars by September.

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