NASA has unveiled its latest mission to Mars. The $485 million MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) spacecraft will arrive at the Red Planet in 2014 if all goes to plan, and aims to collect information on the atmosphere, or what’s left of it. The dense atmosphere believed to exist there in the past is long gone, having disappeared billions of years ago (BBC).
“The loss of Mars’ atmosphere has been an ongoing mystery,” says Doug McCuistion, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program (press release). “MAVEN will help us solve it.”
However AP is reporting that things have not got off to the smoothest start after a mysterious and unexplained conflict of interest caused a 9 month delay to the project’s approval. “The price of the probe increased by $10 million, its launch was postponed by two years, and the science-gathering mission will be cut in half to one year, an official said,” the wire service notes.
After arriving at Mars in the fall of 2014, MAVEN will use its propulsion system to enter an elliptical orbit ranging 90 to 3,870 miles above the planet. The spacecraft’s eight science instruments will take measurements during a full Earth year, which is roughly equivalent to half of a Martian year. MAVEN also will dip to an altitude 80 miles above the planet to sample Mars’ entire upper atmosphere.
Bruce Jakosky, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, is the PI for the project.
“We are absolutely thrilled about this announcement,” said Jakosky (CU-Boulder press release). “We have an outstanding mission that will obtain fundamental science results for Mars. We have a great team and we are ready to go.”