NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, Md., USA) and featuring significant use of composites, was successfully launched on Nov. 18 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., USA, aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-401 rocket. The spacecraft has departed Earth and is now on its way to Mars, where it will study the planet's upper atmosphere.
MAVEN separated from the rocket's Centaur upper stage 53 minutes after launch. Soon after, it deployed its two solar arrays and started producing power. Initial communication with the spacecraft was then obtained by the mission's Flight Operations team at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company's facility near Denver.
"Early telemetry from the spacecraft indicates that all major subsystems are healthy," says Guy Beutelschies, MAVEN spacecraft program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. "Launch, separation from the rocket, solar array deployment and initial acquisition are the first critical events of the mission, and they couldn't have gone smoother. Our team is thrilled that we're on our way to Mars to help NASA better understand that planet."
The MAVEN spacecraft will perform the first dedicated mission to survey the upper atmosphere of Mars. The mission is seeking to understand how the loss of atmospheric gas to space changed the Martian climate. Scheduled to arrive at Mars on Sept. 22, 2014, the spacecraft will spend one year performing its primary science mission.
Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft at its facility in Denver and is responsible for mission operations. The University of California at Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory provided science instruments for the mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., provides navigation support, Deep Space Network support, and Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.