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NASA extends MAVEN Mars mission, citing excellence in science and mission operations

April 25

The orbiter’s observations during the next solar maximum, when solar activity is expected to peak, will examine how the atmosphere of the rocky planet has evolved and help inform human exploration of Mars.

Artist rendition of the MAVEN spacecraft over Mars. On the right is text reading "MAVEN mission extended to 2025"

Today, NASA announced that it has extended the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission through September 2025. The space agency granted the extension after an independent review panel gave the MAVEN team’s proposal the highest score a mission can receive.

The three-year continuation will allow MAVEN scientists to further the goal of understanding the evolution of Mars’ atmosphere by making new observations during some of the most extreme conditions the mission has ever encountered. This includes observing two dust seasons during the predicted rise and peak of Solar Cycle 25, when the Sun’s activity will reach its maximum in the current 11-year solar cycle.

“On behalf of the MAVEN team, we are grateful for the opportunity to continue our science campaign and relay operations. I cannot emphasize the caliber of our team enough- working with all of them and the Mars Exploration Program will continue to be an honor” said MAVEN Principal Investigator Shannon Curry. “The review panel clearly recognized the mission’s exceptional scientific contributions to date, as well as the strong potential for MAVEN to make important new discoveries in response to the high solar and dust activity that’s predicted for the next few years.”

Planetary Mission Senior Review

The ‘excellent’ rating that the MAVEN team’s proposal received is the highest that can be granted by a Planetary Mission Senior Review (PMSR) panel. The Senior Review process ensures that ongoing NASA planetary missions continue to leverage NASA’s substantial investment by continuing groundbreaking science at operational costs that are much lower than those incurred by developing new missions.

PMSRs are conducted by a panel consisting of subject matter experts from industry, NASA, and academia. The highest rating means the panel found the MAVEN proposal to be “comprehensive, thorough, and compelling” and of exceptional science and technical merit. MAVEN was one of the few missions reviewed in this round to achieve a score this high. 

“This is an exceptional achievement for the MAVEN team,” said PI Curry, a planetary scientist and the deputy assistant director of planetary science at the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. “I’m thrilled that the panel recognized our cross-divisional and interdisciplinary science as well as our dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion through career development at every level.”

Understanding the Martian atmosphere during EM5

MAVEN, NASA’s first mission dedicated to observing the Martian atmosphere and its escape, entered into orbit around the Red Planet in September 2014. It is currently operating in its fourth extended mission, which will conclude in September, 2022. The fifth extended mission (EM5) will continue MAVEN’s science and data relay activities through the end of Fiscal Year 2025.

The MAVEN team will continue deciphering Mars’ atmospheric history by making observations during unique conditions not previously encountered during the mission. The EM5 time period will encompass the most active part of Solar Cycle 25, meaning the spacecraft will observe more solar storms impacting Mars than it ever has before. This will allow scientists to investigate compelling science questions, such as how solar maximum affects the Martian atmosphere, magnetosphere and climate. MAVEN will not only observe the impact of solar activity on the Martian atmosphere, but will also serve as a warning system for other orbiters and rovers at Mars by monitoring the Sun.

MAVEN’s observations during EM5 will coincide with a peak in solar activity and dust storms in Solar Cycle 25. The solid blue line is the smoothed sunspot number, and the dashed blue lines from top to bottom are the predicted high, average, and low sunspot numbers. A higher number of sunspots conveys more solar activity is occurring. Dust seasons have been overlaid, two of which will coincide with EM5 during increased solar activity. 

These observations will lead to many cross-divisional opportunities between the heliophysics and planetary community. Over the next three years, Mars will also experience two dust seasons, during which large dust storms are likely to occur across the planet. This is another extraordinary opportunity for MAVEN, as it will have the chance to observe these storms during intense solar activity. By observing these extreme conditions at Mars, MAVEN will significantly improve the understanding of atmospheric evolution at terrestrial planets and provide critical information for future assets and human exploration at Mars. 

“The MAVEN team has a strong record of innovation in addressing engineering challenges to extend the mission and add capability,” said MAVEN Project Manager Rich Burns at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “This next extended mission brings new opportunities and challenges, and we are confident the team will once again rise to the occasion enabling much more fantastic MAVEN science.”

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN project. Lockheed Martin Space built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, as well as the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations. The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder is responsible for managing science operations and education and public outreach.

Written by Willow Reed – MAVEN Communication Specialist

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