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MAVEN Status Update: Oct. 15, 2014

October 15, 2014

The MAVEN science team held a conference call with the media on Oct. 14, 2014 to discuss early results from the mission, shown here. The images include unprecedented views of escaping atomic hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon from Mars' upper atmosphere, the geographical distribution of ozone in the southern hemisphere of Mars, and the first Solar Energetic Particle (SEP) event observed by MAVEN on Sept. 29, 2014. (Courtesy CU/LASP; NASA)

The MAVEN science team held a conference call with the media on Oct. 14, 2014 to discuss early results from the mission, shown here. The images include unprecedented views of escaping atomic hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon from Mars’ upper atmosphere, the geographical distribution of ozone in the southern hemisphere of Mars, and the first Solar Energetic Particle (SEP) event observed by MAVEN on Sept. 29, 2014. (Courtesy CU/LASP; NASA)

David F. Mitchell, MAVEN Project Manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Commissioning activities have gone extremely well over the few weeks since MAVEN entered Mars orbit on September 21. Since then, we have successfully completed four engine burns to lower MAVEN’s orbit. MAVEN now orbits Mars every 4.6 hours with a periapsis (closest distance from the Mars surface) of 175 kilometers. All instruments are activated, and we are seeing data that represents exciting first science from the Mars upper atmosphere. On Oct. 14, 2014, the science team held a conference call with the media to discuss early results. (See related image at right for details.)

Over the past week we successfully completed five deployments of MAVEN instrument systems needed for six of the eight MAVEN instruments. The majority of the instruments had been stowed since prior to the November 2013 launch. With MAVEN now in Mars orbit, it was safe to fire the pyros that released appendages integral to various instruments and one protective sealing cap on the Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer (NGIMS). The spacecraft and all payloads are now configured for the science phase that we have been planning for over the past decade.

Transition timeline (80 KB PDF)

Transition timeline (80 KB PDF)

Now we turn our attention to preparing for Comet Siding Spring. Comet Siding Spring will make its closest approach to Mars on Sunday, October 19. The comet nucleus is predicted to get within 135,000 kilometers of Mars, about one third the distance between the Earth and Moon! The team will take advantage of this very rare close encounter with a comet by taking science on the days leading up to and following Comet Siding Spring’s arrival, measuring its impact on Mars’ upper atmosphere. On the day of closest approach, MAVEN will be in a protective “hunker down” mode until the comet and its gas/dust tail pass by. Months of long-distance comet observations, analysis, and modeling indicate that MAVEN will be safe during the encounter and still be able to obtain incredible science from the event. Following this activity, we will resume final commissioning. Assuming everything goes according to plan, prime science will begin on November 8.
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