MAVEN continues on a smooth journey to Mars. All spacecraft and instrument systems are operating nominally. This month was a busy time for spacecraft operations. We performed a series of tests on the Electra telecom relay package, some of the Particles & Fields instruments from the University of California-Berkeley, the mass spectrometer from the Goddard Space Flight Center, and the spacecraft star trackers. The team also did a second round of magnetometer calibrations. The Goddard-built magnetometers are located at the tips of the spacecraft solar arrays. The calibration was conducted by rolling the spacecraft, using thrusters, about the three spacecraft axes.
We had scheduled a third Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM-3) for July 23rd. The first and second TCMs occurred in December 2013 and February 2014, respectively. The purpose of this maneuver is to adjust the “aim point” of MAVEN at its closest approach when it arrives at Mars, so that it can properly enter orbit around the planet. TCM-3 was cancelled because the flight path we are currently on did not warrant a correction maneuver. We are tracking right where we want to be. So the next, and probably final, TCM is planned for September 12th.
At the end of this month, we went into a “pre-Mars Orbit Insertion moratorium.” All systems required for a safe Mars Orbit Insertion remain powered on. But other systems like the instruments are shut down until late September because they are not needed for a successful MOI. We want the spacecraft system to be as “quiet” as possible and in the safest condition during the critical event on September 21st.
We had a significant technical review this month on our readiness for the Mars Orbit Insertion event in September and the Comet Siding Spring encounter in October. The review team included independent technical experts from the Goddard Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin, and other external aerospace consultants. The review went very well.
Speaking of Comet Siding Spring, the team has made final decisions on how we are going to operate the spacecraft during the comet’s closest approach. With safety as the highest priority, the plan is to take exciting science data of the comet and Mars’ atmospheric response a couple days before and after the comet’s closest approach on October 19th. On October 19th itself, we will go into a “hunker down” mode as the comet passes by the Mars vicinity. See the following link for a press release from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory which details the plans for MAVEN and other Mars missions: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2014-244
To wrap up a very busy month, we had a gathering at the University of Colorado-Boulder for a science working group meeting. The team refined their science plans once we arrive at Mars in September. The scientists are very excited about the prospect of discoveries that will begin once we arrive at Mars in less than 2 months!
David F. Mitchell, MAVEN Project Manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland