NASA’s 4-year-old atmosphere-sniffing MarsAtmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission is embarking on a newcampaign today to tighten its orbit around Mars.
The operation will reduce thehighest point of the MAVEN spacecraft’s elliptical orbit from 3,850 to 2,800miles (6,200 to 4,500 kilometers) above the surface and prepare it to take onadditional responsibility as a data-relay satellite for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover,which launches next year.
“The MAVEN spacecraft has done a phenomenaljob teaching us how Mars lost its atmosphere and providing other importantscientific insights on the evolution of the Martian climate,” said JimWatzin, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.
Over the next few months, MAVEN engineers willuse a navigation technique known as aerobraking – like applying the brakes on acar – to take advantage of the drag of the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere toslow the spacecraft down gradually, orbit by orbit.
Based on the tracking of the spacecraft by the navigation team atNASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and at LockheedMartin in Littleton, Colorado, engineers will begin carefully lowering thelowest part of the spacecraft’s orbit into the Martian upper atmosphere overthe next couple of days by firing its thrusters.
On nine previous occasions throughout themission, MAVEN engineers have dipped the orbiter into the same altitude targetsfor aerobraking to take measurements of the Martian atmosphere.
NASA’s Goddard SpaceFlight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN project and providedtwo science instruments for the mission.
For more information on theMAVEN mission, more information on theMars 2020 mission, Media ContactNancy JonesNASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, AgleJet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, by:Lonnie ShekhtmanNASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center2019-020
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