NASA confirmed Sunday that its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has successfully arrived the red planet’s orbit. Maven dropped into the Martian orbit at 22:30 EDT on Sunday. Launched about ten months ago, the spacecraft traveled about 442 million and cost close to $700 million. The craft entered into the Martian orbit by pointing its main engines in the direction of its travel. The robotic explorer had to fire its engines for about 33 minutes to capture the orbit.
Maven to study the upper atmosphere of Mars
Now begins the real work. Scientists will spend the next few weeks adjusting the probe’s altitude and checking its instruments. Maven won’t land on Martian surface. Instead, it will be studying the red planet’s upper atmosphere in an attempt to understand why the air pressure on Mars is so low that the free water on its surface boils away instantly.
Lockheed Martin Corporation (NYSE:LMT), the maker of Maven, is operating the mission from its Littleton, Colorado-based control center. Principal investigator Bruce Jakosky said previous spacecraft have provided a lot of information about the upper atmosphere. But scientists haven’t yet been able to put the whole picture together. Maven is expected to provide fundamental new insights into how the Mars environment evolved over time.
Mangalyaan to join Maven in 48 hours
Three spacecraft are already circling the red planet, two from the U.S. and one Europe. Maven’s arrival will be followed two days later by India’s Mangalyaan (Mars Orbiter Mission or MOM). Today, the Indian Space Research Organization’s MOM successfully entered the Mars sphere of influence. However, MOM has a different objective. It will be making an observation for methane, which indicates biological activity on the planet.
NASA’s director of planetary science, Dr Jim Green, said the U.S. space agency is “really interested” in correlating data sets and cooperating with its Indian counterpart. But Maven and MOM’s will have to show their real capabilities next month when Comet Siding Spring will pass just 82,000 miles from Mars surface. It will likely dump a lot of dust on the Martian surface. However, the risk of dust damaging the spacecraft was low.