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NASA testing Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator for use in future Mars missions

As +NASA plans ambitious new robotic missions to #Mars, laying the groundwork for even more complex human science expeditions to come, the spacecraft needed to land safely on the red planet's surface necessarily become increasingly massive, hauling larger payloads to accommodate extended stays on the Martian surface.

High in Earth's stratosphere, the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) mission will test new, full-scale parachutes and drag devices at supersonic speeds to refine them for future use at #Mars. Testing for LDSD will begin this June at the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, with a potential launch to Mars as early as 2018.

Current Mars landing techniques date back to the Viking mission, which put two landers on Mars in 1976. That mission's parachute design has been in use ever since—and was used again in 2012 to deliver NASA’s +Curiosity Mars Rover to the #Martian surface. To conduct advanced exploration missions in the future, however, NASA must advance the technology to a new level of sophistication since Viking-style parachutes' capabilities are limited.

These new drag devices are one of the first steps on the technology path to landing humans, habitats, and return rockets safely on Mars.

To read more about NASA's LDSD, visit

Watch a related video from the +NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) here
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MAVEN Status Update: Thursday, March 27, 2014

The #MAVEN spacecraft continues to perform well on its trip to Mars. The spacecraft is currently flying in “late cruise mode,” which positions the spacecraft with the fixed high gain antenna pointing directly at Earth as MAVEN gets farther from our home planet. The high gain antenna enables us to communicate with MAVEN at a high data rate between Mars and Earth. 

During the month of March, the MAVEN team calibrated various spacecraft systems including the high gain antenna, star trackers, and the inertial measurement units in order to verify pointing accuracies. 

On the instrument side, the team tested the Extreme UltraViolet (EUV) sensor by slewing the spacecraft in a cross-shaped scan maneuver while the EUV sensor stared at the Sun. Once at Mars, this sensor will measure the extreme ultraviolet light coming from the Sun and help us to better understand solar effects on Mars’ upper atmosphere. We also turned on the entire Particles & Fields package (6 of the 8 MAVEN instruments), now working together for the first time in space. 

The team has been hard at work preparing for Mars Orbit Insertion—on track for September 21st at 10:00 p.m. EDT—by scheduling team dress rehearsals and testing the spacecraft in flight and on the ground with simulators.

As of March 27, 2014, MAVEN is 30.5 million kilometers (18.9 million mi) from Earth and 71.9 million kilometers (44.7 million mi) from Mars. Its velocity is 27.34 kilometers per second (17 mi/sec) as it moves around the Sun.
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MAVEN at Mars

The #MAVEN spacecraft is shown here as featured on the cover of Lockheed Martin's 2013 annual report. Based in Bethesda, Maryland, our partners at Lockheed Martin developed the MAVEN spacecraft, conducted assembly, test and launch operations, and are providing mission operations at their Littleton, Colorado facility.

The MAVEN #spacecraft is based on the flight-proven designs of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Juno spacecraft—both designed and built by Lockheed Martin. MRO was launched in August 2005 and Juno was launched in August 2011.

Additionally, Lockheed Martin is basing the design of the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission spacecraft, on lessons learned from MAVEN. Leveraging this strong lineage of flight proven designs allows for continually improvements in mission success.

(Image credit: +Lockheed Martin)

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MAVEN location update: Tuesday, March 18, 2014

As of today, #MAVEN is 16,322,401 miles (26,268,359 kilometers) from Earth and 50,528,728 miles (81,318,105 km) from Mars, traveling at a Sun-centered velocity of 17.4 miles per second (28.0 km/sec) and an Earth-centered velocity of 3.3 mi/sec (5.4 km/sec).

Upcoming events include continuing calibrations and checkouts of various instrument and spacecraft systems.

The spacecraft remains on a trajectory for Mars Orbit Insertion in 188 days (or 16,243,200 seconds), on September 21, 2014 (at 10 p.m. EDT).
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MAVEN's Particles and Fields Package: Studying the Solar Wind at Mars

To planetary scientists, the Martian atmosphere presents an intriguing mystery: today it's a thin, cold wisp of carbon dioxide with just one percent the pressure of Earth's atmosphere, but long ago it was thick and warm enough to support lakes and rivers on the Martian surface. How did Mars lose so much of its early atmosphere? Scientists think that the solar wind may be responsible, and the #MAVEN spacecraft is designed to find out.

The instruments of MAVEN's Particles & Fields package will study the interaction of the solar wind with Mars's upper atmosphere, helping scientists to better understand how Mars became the freeze-dried planet that we see today.

In this video, produced by +NASA Goddard, Robert Lin, the late director of the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory, discusses how MAVEN will study the interaction of the Martian atmosphere with the solar wind.

(Video credit: +NASA/GSFC)
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The Opposition of Mars

Just as #MAVEN has passed the halfway point on its journey to the red planet, Earth and #Mars are converging for a close encounter of their own, an event astronomers call "the opposition of Mars." This event is referred to as an "opposition" because Mars and the Sun are on opposite sides of the sky

On April 14th, Earth and Mars will be at their minimum distance from each other: 92 million km (57 million miles). Oppositions of Mars happen every 26 months.

(Video credit: Science@NASA)

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What will #MAVEN do during its mission at Mars?

When Mars' dynamo ceased roughly 3.7 billion years ago, the global magnetic field that protected the planet from many atmospheric escape processes also disappeared. The result is the thin, cold atmosphere we observe on Mars today.

By determining the state of Mars' upper atmosphere and the rates of atmospheric escape to space today, MAVEN will allow us to understand the history of the Martian atmosphere and, by extension, the nature of planetary habitability.

MAVEN: Solving Mars' Climate Mystery
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MAVEN's trajectory to Mars

This animation shows the cruise trajectory of the #MAVEN spacecraft, which was launched on Nov. 18, 2013. It will arrive at Mars on Sept. 21, 2014, to explore the planet's upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the Sun and solar wind. The range and speed of MAVEN with respect to Earth, Mars and the Sun, both in metric (kilometers) and Imperial (miles) units, is displayed along with a date and the number of days until arrival at Mars. 

The Sun-centered trajectory of MAVEN, shown in blue, takes 308 days to transit from Earth's orbit in green, to Mars' orbit in red. The animation updates at a rate of twice per day and shows the MAVEN spacecraft, Earth and Mars locations.

(Video credit: Dave Folta/GSFC)


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MAVEN and Space Weather

#MAVEN will arrive at Mars at a time in the solar cycle that is traditionally rich in major space weather events. The spacecraft is equipped with several instruments devoted to measuring the solar wind and how solar energetic particles and extreme ultraviolet irradiance interact with Mars’ upper atmosphere. These experiments have been specifically designed to determine whether space weather events increase atmospheric escape rates to historically important levels.

MAVEN data will provide insight into how various space weather events affect the upper atmosphere of Mars today and how they have contributed to its evolution over time.

Find out more, here:
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MAVEN location update: Monday, March 3, 2014

As of today, #MAVEN has completed all of the initial payload checkouts and all systems are performing as expected. 

MAVEN is 13,619,307 miles (21,918,150 kilometers) from Earth and 61,279,137 miles (98,619,212 km) from Mars, traveling at a Sun-centered velocity of 18.1 miles per second (29.1 km/sec).

Upcoming events in March include continuing calibrations and checkouts of various instrument and spacecraft systems.

The spacecraft will travel more than 180 degrees around the Sun in its Hohmann transfer orbit, which requires a total of 10 months to set the stage for Mars Orbit Insertion on September 21, 2014 (10 p.m. EST).
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Mars upper atmosphere and ionosphere orbiter
Solving Mars' climate mystery. Where did the water and CO2 go?
  • Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
    Spacecraft, present
    Atmospheric Orbiter
  • Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics
    Spacecraft, 2012
  • NASA - Goddard Space Flight Center, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, University of California at Berkeley, NASA - Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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Waterton Canyon, CO - NASA's Kennedy Space Center
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, scheduled for launch on Nov. 18, 2013, will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. The goal of MAVEN is to determine the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the Martian climate through time. Where did the atmosphere – and the water – go?
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN Mission (MAVEN) is set to launch in 2013 and will explore the planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind.
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The second in NASA's Mars Scout missions, MAVEN will determine how much of the Martian atmosphere has been lost over time by measuring the current rate of escape to space and gathering enough information about the relevant processes to allow extrapolation backward in time.
  • University of Colorado - Boulder
    Astronomy and Aeronomy, 2011
  • University of California, Berkeley
    Space Physics
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Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN Mission