US launches spacecraft to explore Martian atmosphere

    By IANS,

    Washington: The US space agency — NASA — launched its newest Mars-bound spacecraft Monday afternoon to look at the red planet’s upper atmosphere, Xinhua reported.

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    The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) lifted off at 0628 GMT aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

    The trip to Mars will take 10 months, and the $671-million. MAVEN is expected to reach orbit around Mars in September 2014, NASA said.

    “MAVEN is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere,” the US space agency said.

    “The spacecraft will investigate how the loss of Mars’ atmosphere to space determined the history of water on the surface,” it said.

    MAVEN has a one-Earth-year primary mission, during which it will make measurements in all regions of “near-Mars” space, including five deep dip maneuvers, descending to an altitude of 120 km, the lower boundary of the planet’s upper atmosphere.

    The spacecraft will carry three instrument suites. The Particles and Fields Package contains six instruments to characterise the solar wind and the ionosphere of Mars.

    The Remote Sensing Package will determine global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer will measure the composition of Mars’ upper atmosphere.

    Maven is the 10th orbiter the US space agency sent to Mars, but three of them failed. Currently, there are three other active spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet: Mars Odyssey launched in 2001, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express launched in 2003 and NASA ‘s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter launched in 2005.

    NASA also has two active rovers currently studying Mars on the planet’s surface: Opportunity launched in 2003 and Curiosity, the last NASA mission launched in 2011.