Exposed to the Elements

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MAVEN begins environmental testing phase   

“Where did the atmosphere go?”

This question is driving the Lockheed Martin team who has been working tirelessly to get NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft ready for the next critical stage. Now, after completing assembly of the Mars orbiter, the team will examine their own workmanship when the vehicle undergoes the extremes of environmental testing.

“The assembly and integration of MAVEN has gone very smoothly and we’re excited to test our work over the next six months,” said Guy Beutelschies, MAVEN program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. “Environmental testing is a crucial set of activities designed to ensure the spacecraft can operate in the extreme conditions of space.”

During the environmental testing phase, the orbiter will undergo a variety of rigorous tests that simulate the extreme temperatures, vacuum and vibration the spacecraft will experience during the course of its mission. Currently, the spacecraft is in the company’s Reverberant Acoustic Laboratory being prepared to undergo acoustics testing that simulates the maximum sound and vibration levels the spacecraft will experience during launch.

Following the acoustics test, MAVEN will be subjected to barrage of additional tests, including: separation/deployment shock, sine vibration, electromagnetic interference/electromagnetic compatibility (EMI/EMC), and magnetics testing. The phase concludes with a thermal vacuum test where the spacecraft and its instruments are exposed to the vacuum and extreme hot and cold temperatures it will face in space.

“I’m very pleased with how our team has designed and built the spacecraft and science instruments that will make our measurements,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator from the University of Colorado at Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.  “We’ve got an exciting science mission planned, and the environmental testing now is what will ensure that we are ready for launch and for the mission.” 

The MAVEN team is on a strict schedule to launch during a 20-day window that opens Nov. 18, 2013. If that window is missed, the mission has to wait two years for another opportunity to go to Mars.

Stressing the point, David Mitchell, MAVEN project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center said, “The spacecraft is entering system level test right on schedule, while maintaining robust cost and schedule reserves to deal with the technical or programmatic surprises that could occur during test or in the run to launch.  Tracking on plan is critically important to being ready for launch later this year and the science that MAVEN will deliver one year later.”

MAVEN is a part of NASA’s Mars Scout program and is a robotic exploration mission to understand the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in change in the Martian climate over time. It will investigate how much of the atmosphere has been lost over time by measuring the current rate of escape to space and gathering enough information about the relevant processes to allow extrapolate backward in time. The science from this mission will give insight into the history of Mars' atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability overall.

MAVEN’s principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado at Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. The university will provide science operations, science instruments and lead Education/Public Outreach. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the project and provides two of the science instruments for the mission.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems, near Denver, built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. The company has been a pioneer in the development of robotic exploration vehicles, and by partnering with these talented organizations, missions like this one will continue to answer the unknown – such as, “Where did the atmosphere go?”

Posted February 8, 2013

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highlights
  • The MAVEN spacecraft is fully assembled and is starting a regiment of environmental testing for the next six months.
  • The environmental tests simulate the extreme temperatures, vacuum and vibration the spacecraft will experience in space.
  • Once at Mars, MAVEN will work to help us understand the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in the planet’s climate.

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