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MAVEN in orbit around Mars

After a journey of 10 months and some 711 million kilometers traveled, the MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) probe of the NASA has been successfully put into orbit around the planet Mars, on September 22, 2014. On board, various instruments among which the SWEA (Solar Wind Electron Analyzer) instrument, designed by a team of IRAP (Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse and CNRS). Scientific objectives of the mission: to study the upper Martian atmosphere and ionosphere, and their interactions with the solar wind.

A placing into orbit procedure is always difficult: it requires, first, to slow the probe through the engines whose power and geometrical arrangement must be set correctly. Then follows the capture of the probe by the gravitational field of the planet. Next comes the positioning of the craft in an orbit which will enable it to fulfill its scientific mission.

In the case of MAVEN, the chosen orbit will sometimes put the probe closer to 150 kilometers from the Martian surface and then depart it to 6300 kilometers, giving it an overall view of the Red Planet. In addition, campaigns to "dive into the atmosphere" until about 120 kilometers from the surface ("deep dips") are scheduled.

This long placing into orbit process will be accompanied by the test of the onboard instruments and the definition of the successive scientific sequences. A total of six weeks will be needed to optimize the conditions of the mission.

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Then will follow the scientific mission itself, the very first one dedicated to the study of the Martian atmosphere, whose composition is now tenuous. The scientific data collected will lead to understand the influence of the solar wind on the progressive loss of atmosphere, and thus to trace the phases of the transition from a once habitable planet to a now desert surface.

Further Resources :

IRAP Contact :

  • Christian Mazelle : christian.mazelle@irap.omp.eu
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