Mars Maven close up and personal

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Lockheed Martin is entering the final assembly, test and launch phase of the Maven spacecraft which will be launched in November on a mission to investigate what caused the disappearance of most of the Martian atmosphere. My colleague Frank Morring and I were fortunate to get up close and personal with the Mars Atmosphere And Volatile Evolution (Maven) vehicle is being built at Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems site near Denver.

The high gain antenna and articulated payload package unit are visible in this view of Maven. (Guy Norris)

Specialists are working to complete testing and assembly in time for Maven’s planned delivery to Cape Canaveral, Florida in August for payload integration. There’s not much room for error or delay. Due to planetary alignment, the program is targeting an optimal 20-day launch window which closes on Dec 7, 2013. Meeting the target is vital as the next time the planets will be favorably aligned for a mission to Mars will be in early 2016. Following launch the spacecraft should enter orbit around Mars in late September 2014 and collect data for at least one year.

The other exposed side of Maven reveals the black composite tank for the spacecraft's 450 gallons of of hydrazine propellant, and associated insulated helium tank. (Guy Norris)

The vehicle will fly a highly elliptical orbit around the planet, enabling it to travel through the upper reaches of the Martian atmosphere, gathering data that should help scientists reconstruct a climatic history of the planet.

 (Lockheed Martin)

Maven carries magnetometers at the ends of the solar panels to keep them as far away as possible from the magnetic influence of the spacecraft. Maven is designed to measure the magnetic field in the solar wind, in the near-Mars environment, and in the crust. As the magnetic fields are small, and any magnetic field from the spacecraft itself will interfere with the measurements.

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