After roughly ten months of travel, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft will be reaching the red planet and entering an elliptical orbit on September 21 at around 9:50 pm EDT. Thrusters will slow the spacecraft down, allowing it to be pulled into orbit over a span of 35 hours.
After MAVEN begins its orbit, it will spend the first six weeks of the mission getting situated and performing various tests to ensure all instruments are working properly. Once all of the preliminary tests are done and MAVEN is ready to go, it will begin its science mission that is expected to last one Earth year.
MAVEN orbit insertion trajectory image credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
MAVEN’s mission will be to analyze the ionosphere and upper atmosphere of Mars and determine how it is affected by solar wind. More importantly, data collected by MAVEN will attempt to explain why Mars, which used to have an atmosphere thick enough to sustain liquid water on the surface, has almost nothing now.
"The MAVEN science mission focuses on answering questions about where did the water that was present on early Mars go, about where did the carbon dioxide go," principal investigator Bruce Jakosky explained in a press release. "These are important questions for understanding the history of Mars, its climate, and its potential to support at least microbial life.”
There has been considerable debate regarding Mars’s former habitability. Most of the support comes through evidence of liquid water, which is essential for life as we know it.
"MAVEN is another NASA robotic scientific explorer that is paving the way for our journey to Mars," NASA’s Jim Green added. "Together, robotics and humans will pioneer the Red Planet and the solar system to help answer some of humanity's fundamental questions about life beyond Earth."
MAVEN’s insertion into Martian orbit, as well as the events leading up to it, will be broadcast live by NASA. You can tune into all of the events right here; all times are EDT:
Thursday, September 18 - 6:00 am - Replay of MAVEN Pre Mars Orbit Insertion News Briefing
Sunday, September 21 - 11:59 am - Post MAVEN - Mars Orbit Insertion News Conference
Sunday, September 21 - 9:30 pm - Live Coverage of MAVEN - Mars Orbit Insertion