The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft, better known as MAVEN, is slated for launch Nov. 18 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Upon its arrival at Mars in Sept. 2014, MAVEN will spend a year seeking clues into the disappearance of atmospheric gases believed to have resulted in climate change on the Red Planet.
A U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft delivered MAVEN to NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 2, kicking off prelaunch preparations. Shortly after the spacecraft arrived in Kennedy's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, its parabolic high gain antenna and science instrumentation were installed.
On Aug. 13, MAVEN was powered on for the first time since reaching the Florida spaceport.
With launch only 11 weeks away, the pace of prelaunch activities has intensified. The MAVEN spacecraft and its two sets of power-producing solar arrays have been going through a series of checkouts and tests. Each solar cell was examined, cleaned and repaired if necessary, and testing of the arrays continues, leading up to reintegration with the spacecraft later this month.
Once in space, MAVEN must be able to orient itself, aim its instruments in the right direction, carry out steering maneuvers to communicate with Earth and stay on its Mars-bound course. Before sending the spacecraft on its way, the processing team must verify critical systems to ensure the spacecraft will be able to perform these tasks during its journey. MAVEN's steering thrusters and star-tracker guidance system have been tested and the final flight software is installed.
While MAVEN continues through its prelaunch paces, its ride to space is undergoing its own preparations for liftoff. The first and second stages of the Atlas V rocket arrived at Florida's Port Canaveral on Aug. 26 aboard United Launch Alliance's barge, the Delta Mariner.
Both stages were trucked from the port to a hangar at the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center, or ASOC, on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. In late September, the stages will be moved to nearby Space Launch Complex 41 for stacking, and the protective payload fairing will arrive from its manufacturing location in Harlingen, Texas.
When the MAVEN spacecraft is fully tested and ready for flight, it will be tucked into the payload fairing, transported to the launch complex and placed atop the Atlas V to await the start of NASA's next mission to Mars.
By Anna Heiney
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center