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Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

Science Orbit

MAVEN orbit and primary science mission

MAVEN_periapsis_passMAVEN launched on November 18, 2013, and began orbiting Mars on September 21, 2014. The first fuel burn inserted the spacecraft into a capture orbit with a period of 35 hours and an altitude of approximately 380 kilometers. Shortly after Mars orbit insertion, a second fuel burn placed the spacecraft into its 4.5-hour period requirement for acquiring data. Three smaller burns reduced the periapsis altitude of the spacecraft to approximately 150 kilometers, placing MAVEN within the required density corridor and a 75° inclination elliptical science mapping orbit.

MAVEN’s elliptical orbit (~6,000 km apoapsis; 150 km periapsis) provides coverage of all altitudes. A series of “deep-dip” campaigns (~5 days each), bring the periapsis down to near 125 km. The orbit precesses in both latitude and local solar time, which allows for complete coverage of Mars’ upper atmosphere.

MAVEN extended mission orbit
An aerobraking campaign from February 11 through April 5, 2019, resulted in a tighter orbit around Mars and an increased ability for MAVEN to provide telecommunications relays for Mars surface assets.

During aerobraking, MAVEN’s periapsis altitude was lowered from 151 km to 132 km and the apoapsis altitude dropped from about 6,050 km to 4,570 km, an orbit change that provides additional relay communications support. Reducing apoapsis allows MAVEN to orbit Mars 6.6 times per Earth day versus 5.3 orbits/day previously.



MAVEN Mars atmospheric coverage (Courtesy NASA Goddard)

MAVEN orbit animation (Courtesy Chris Waters/Lockheed Martin)