PRESS RELEASE: LASP-led NASA Mars mission enters final phase before launch


PRESS RELEASE: LASP-led NASA Mars mission enters final phase before launch

The LASP-led Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission has approval to proceed to the final phase before launch. (Courtesy NASA/GSFC)

NASA has authorized the next Mars mission, led by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder), to proceed to system delivery, spacecraft integration, testing, and launch, which is slated for November 2013. The $670 million Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission will be the first 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.

LASP Associate Director for Science and MAVEN Principal Investigator Bruce Jakosky said, “The spacecraft and instruments are all coming together at this point. Although we’re focused on getting everything ready for launch right now, we aren’t losing sight of our ultimate objective—getting to Mars and making the science measurements.”

The authorization to proceed—called Key Decision Point D, or KDP-D—was decided at a meeting at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 10; the meeting was chaired by the NASA Science Mission Directorate. KDP-D occurs after the project has completed a series of independent reviews that cover the technical health and programmatic health of the project, including schedule and cost. KDP-D represents the official transition from the Phase C development stage to Phase D in the mission life cycle. During Phase D, the spacecraft bus will be completed and subsystems will be installed, and the science instruments will be integrated into the spacecraft. Rigorous spacecraft and environmental testing early in 2013 will culminate in launch later that year.

“I’m incredibly proud of how this team continues to meet every major milestone on schedule on its journey to Mars,” said David Mitchell, MAVEN project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Being ready for the start of system-level integration and test is critically important to ultimately being ready for launch on Nov. 18, 2013.”

Jakosky, also a professor in CU-Boulder’s geological sciences department and director of the CU-Boulder Center for Astrobiology, cautioned that there is much more work to be done before launch. “This decision by NASA marks the start of integration of all of the instruments on the spacecraft. It’s cool to see the spacecraft coming together, but there is a lot of work still to go and a lot of challenges to solve between now and when the spacecraft is ready for launch.”

The MAVEN spacecraft will carry three instrument suites. The LASP-built Remote Sensing Package will determine global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. LASP is also contributing instrumentation to the Particles and Fields Package, which will characterize the solar wind and the ionosphere of the planet. The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, provided by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, will measure the composition and isotopes of neutrals and ions.

The MAVEN science team includes three LASP scientists heading instrument teams—Nick Schneider, Frank Eparvier, and Robert Ergun—as well as a large supporting team of scientists, engineers, and mission operations specialists.

MAVEN will also include participation by a number of CU-Boulder graduate and undergraduate students in the coming years. Currently there are more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students working on research projects at LASP, which provides hands-on training for future careers as engineers and scientists, said Jakosky.

“CU-Boulder’s participation in Mars exploration missions goes back decades, beginning with NASA’s Mariner 6 and Mariner 7 missions launched in 1969,” said Vice Chancellor for Research Stein Sture. “LASP is a proven training ground for students seeking hands-on experience in building, testing and flying space hardware and is the only institute in the world to have designed and built instruments that have been launched to every planet in the Solar System.”

In addition to leading the mission and providing instrumentation, LASP will provide science operations, build instruments, and lead Education and Public Outreach. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the project and is building two of the science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colo., will build the spacecraft and perform mission operations. The University of California-Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory is building instruments for the mission. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., provides program management via the Mars Program Office, navigation support, the Deep Space Network, and the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

The next major review for the MAVEN team is the Mission Operations Review in November 2012. This review assesses the project’s operational readiness and its progress towards launch. The project will continue to work with partners to deliver all instruments in the next four months. MAVEN will launch during a 20-day period in November-December, 2013. It will go into orbit around Mars in September 2014, and, after a one-month checkout period, will make measurements from orbit for one Earth year.

More Information 

News releases



  • Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN PI: 303-492-8004 or
  • Marisa Lubeck, LASP press office: 303-735-7108 or


  • Jim Scott, CU media relations: 303-492-3114 or


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