Wednesday, September 28, 2011

MAVEN Core Structure Complete

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission has reached a new milestone. Lockheed Martin has completed building the primary structure of the MAVEN spacecraft at its Space Systems Company facility near Denver. The MAVEN spacecraft is scheduled to launch in November 2013 and will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere.

To read the full news release, visit:
MAVEN Mission Primary Core Structure has been completed at Lockheed Martin

Friday, August 26, 2011

MAVEN is a Team Effort

Several people have asked me what role NASA HQ plays in the development of our mission and whether we on the MAVEN team have free reign to move forward as we see fit. As Principal Investigator of MAVEN, I led the development of the original concept, assembled the team, and led the effort to write the competitive proposals and reports prior to our selection. Having moved into development, I retain the overall authority and responsibility for the mission. We have a Project Manager (David F. Mitchell, at GSFC) who reports to me; he oversees the implementation, and he heads a Project Office that carries out the broad management functions.

However, we are implementing the mission as part of the larger Mars Exploration Program that is itself a part of the NASA program. As part of this broader program, we work closely with a lot of people and organizations that are outside of the project itself.

The Mars Exploration Program (MEP) at NASA HQ oversees the Mars program as a whole, developing the annual budget and setting policy for the Program. At present, the Mars Program includes three active missions (Mars OdysseyMars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Opportunity rover) and three missions in development (Mars Science Laboratory, scheduled for launch this November, MAVEN, and the 2016 ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter), and is planning for future missions beyond those (including a possible 2018 rover and a Mars sample return mission). A Mars lander is also in the ongoing competition for the next opportunity in the Discovery program.

We work closely with our NASA HQ Program Executive, Lisa May, and our Program Scientist, Mary Mellott.  They represent the project at NASA HQ to the MEP and the Planetary Science Division, and to the Science Mission Directorate as a whole. They work on a lot of issues related to the planning and implementation of MAVEN and to the interfaces between institutions and individuals.

NASA HQ assigns responsibility for the Mars Program to the Mars Program Office (MPO) located at JPL. The MPO oversees implementing the approved missions and planning and developing future missions.  From MAVEN’s narrow perspective, they provide oversight of our technical progress and track issues that might affect (or be affected by) other components of the Mars Program. We work closely in these areas with Peter Doms, who is the MAVEN mission manager and our direct contact in the Mars Program Office. Peter and Lisa work closely together to ensure strong coordination between NASA HQ and the MPO. And the heads of the two offices—Doug McCuistion (MEP Program Director at NASA HQ) and Fuk Li (Mars Program Manager at JPL)—work together to ensure that the Mars Program as a whole runs smoothly.

Although MAVEN is a PI-led mission, responsibility for the project has been assigned to Goddard Space Flight Center. We work with the different groups at GSFC to ensure that we are adhering to appropriate engineering practices (which is a much broader task than it might seem at first) and to appropriate management and business practices. Our Project Manager interacts regularly with the Director of Flight Projects (George Morrow) and the Center Director (Rob Strain) and his Deputy (Rick Obenschain). They ensure that we have access to the resources we need at GSFC to implement the mission, and they help us to resolve technical and programmatic issues as they come up.

In addition, the project has an independent Standing Review Board, appointed with approval of NASA HQ and GSFC. The SRB consists of senior people who have previous experience in carrying out spacecraft missions. For instance, the SRB Chair, George Pace, was the Project Manager for the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission. The SRB conducts reviews of our project at roughly yearly intervals, checking our progress and status against a NASA-wide set of rigorous standards and the Mars Exploration Program’s top-level requirements on MAVEN.

Members of the MAVEN Standing Review Board during one of our reviews. They’ve been through projects like this before and know where many of the potential pitfalls are.

Yes, MAVEN is a PI-led mission. But we interact almost daily with our colleagues at NASA HQ and in the MPO. We’re responsible for implementing the mission safely and successfully, but a lot of coordination is necessary to ensure that we’re on track, that we identify and address problems early, and that we focus on the key issues. All of these groups are making significant contributions to the development of MAVEN, and are an important part of our team.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Where is MAVEN in The Development Process?

With MAVEN having just recently passed its Critical Design Review and now having just over two years until launch, this is a good time to take stock of where we are in the process. We originally began putting the mission together in early 2004, knowing that NASA would have an open competition to propose Mars missions in the near future.

2004-2006. Developed concept, assembled science team and partners.
2006. Submitted MAVEN proposal. Selected for Phase A study (more-detailed development of mission concept).
2007. Carried out Phase A study, and submitted full Concept Study Report.
2008. Carried out a second Phase A study at the direction of NASA HQ. MAVEN was selected for development in Sept. 2008.
2008. Began Phase B (developing detailed mission, requirements, and design). Further refined requirements to lower-level systems, culminating in a Systems Requirements Assessment review in summer 2009.
2009-2010. Continued Phase B (preliminary design stage), leading to Preliminary Design Review (PDR) in summer 2010. Results were evaluated within NASA, with a Confirmation Review with senior NASA officials in October 2010; confirmation meant that we were officially approved as a mission and now would move forward into full-scale development.
2010-2011. Carried out Phase C (detailed or final design stage), leading to Critical Design Review (CDR) in summer 2011. The CDR generally marks the transition from designing the components, the spacecraft, and the mission operations to building hardware and the operations system.

The MAVEN team at the Critical Design Review in July 2011. Several hundred additional scientists, engineers, and support personnel are contributing to the success of MAVEN, but were not present at the review. (Courtesy MAVEN)

That brings us up to today. Looking forward:

2011-2012. Complete Phase C, which involves building the flight components – the instruments and the spacecraft components.
2012-2013. Integration and test. The components are assembled onto the spacecraft bus, building up a complete orbiter consisting of the spacecraft and the science instruments. The components are tested along the way, and the entire orbiter is tested in the environments in which it will need to operate.
2013. Launch campaign. The observatory ships to Florida in August of 2013, for launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station facilities there (NASA’s Kennedy Space Center sits adjacent to CCAFS). There is a three-month “campaign” leading to stacking it on the Atlas V rocket, fueling the spacecraft and rocket, and launching it. We have a 20-day window in which we can launch on a path that will get us to Mars.

To put the process into perspective, we’ve gone through nearly 80 % of the time from the original concept up until launch, but we still have about 2/3 of the effort to go (judging by budgeted work years of effort). The largest fraction of that total effort will take place over this next year!

After launch, it takes 10 months to get to Mars, a month or so to “commission” the spacecraft and get ready to make science measurements, and then we have a primary mission of a year. From start to finish – cradle to grave – it will have been a full twelve years!

Monday, July 25, 2011

MAVEN Mission Completes Major Milestone

The mission reached a major milestone last week when it successfully completed its Mission Critical Design Review (CDR).

MAVEN will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. The goal of MAVEN is to determine the history of the loss of atmospheric gases to space through time, providing answers about Mars climate evolution. It will accomplish this by measuring the current rate of escape to space and gathering enough information about the relevant processes to allow extrapolation backward in time. 

So, You Want to Build a Satellite: Part Two (Courtesy NASA/GFSC)

To read the full NASA press release, visit:

Viking Lander 35th Anniversary

July 20 was the 35th anniversary of the Viking I lander’s successful landing on the Mars surface in 1976. That mission was a major turning point in our understanding of Mars, providing detailed geological, chemical, and geophysical data that fueled science analysis for more than two decades.

Many people think that the Viking emphasis on searching for life (which, in hindsight, utilized the wrong approach for doing this) killed off Mars exploration for two decades. I see it differently — that the lack of a scientific framework for asking questions about Mars made it difficult to propose viable new missions. However, the Viking data, in combination with other data sources and terrestrial analysis, made it possible to put forward the scientific framework that we are working under today. That very successful framework suggests that environmental conditions on Mars were such that life could have existed at some time in the past or, under the surface, even at the present. The missions of the last two decades have all been based on this framework, and the upcoming missions are as well.
The Viking Lander spacecraft that made the first landing on Mars on July 20, 1976. (Courtesy NASA)

The Mars Science Laboratory, which launches this November, is set to explore surface chemistry as it is relevant to possible life. And, of course, the MAVEN mission will explore the history of the atmosphere and climate. We pitched our mission as related to life because of this climate connection, and it’s that strong connection that makes it of so much interest to the broader Mars science community.

So, as we celebrate our success to date as we move into the “build” phase of the project and move forward into the all-consuming effort during the coming two years prior to launch, keep in mind that we are part of a broad program of Mars exploration that goes back many decades. I’m very excited and very much looking forward to the important contributions that MAVEN will make to understanding the climate of Mars and to the “life” question. To Mars!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What goes around comes around

Once we’re in orbit around Mars, the NGIMS instrument will release its cover. This “break-off cap” seals the inlet to the instrument, keeping it free from possible contamination prior to beginning the science mission. Once the cap is released, it no longer is connected to the MAVEN spacecraft and will be in its own independent orbit around Mars. Do we have to be concerned about the potential for the cap to come back and hit the spacecraft at some later time?

When the cap is ejected, it moves away from the spacecraft at approximately 3 m/s. At that point, it’s in its own distinct orbit around Mars. Because it was ejected from the spacecraft, the cap’s orbit crosses the MAVEN orbit at at least one point. Thus, there is the possibility that it could eventually have a close encounter with the spacecraft on a later orbit and possibly even collide with it. It would be pretty embarrassing if a collision occurred, especially if it damaged or destroyed the spacecraft!

Continue reading this post: MAVEN PI Blog on Facebook
Diagram showing the NGIMS instrument. The inlet to the instrument is covered by the break-off cap at the very far left. (Courtesy NASA/GSFC)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Critical Design Review “Season”

There’s been a lot going on with MAVEN since the last PI blog post. The instrument teams have built “engineering models” of each instrument; these allow the teams to test out the hardware and software now, and later to test procedures on the ground before doing them on the spacecraft after launch. They’ve done early interface tests with spacecraft test hardware that ensure that the instruments and the spacecraft can talk to and understand each other. Some flight components are being built early, for both the spacecraft and the instruments. The mission design and navigation team is refining the trajectory for the cruise, orbit-insertion, and science-mapping phases of the mission. And the mission operations team is finishing the design of the ground data system, the science planning process, and the ops processes.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

MAVEN PI, Bruce Jakosky - The 2013 MAVEN mission to Mars

MAVEN PI, Bruce Jakosky discusses the upcoming mission to Mars in this Dec. 2009 public lecture at the University of Colorado Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP).

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mars: The Search for Water, the Search for Life

A great video, detailing the geological features indicating a historical presence of water on Mars. From the University of Arizona and the Phoenix mission:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

Solving the Mystery of the Ancient Mars Atmosphere

The objectives of MAVEN are described in this video and the instrument packages responsible for each scientific goal are demonstrated as they will appear on the spacecraft.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Introduction to the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN)

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, scheduled for launch in late 2013, will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere.

The goal of MAVEN is to determine the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the Martian climate through time. Where did the atmosphere – and the water – go?

MAVEN will determine how much of the Martian 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 extrapolation backward in time.

MAVEN will have four primary scientific objectives:
1) Determine the role that loss of volatiles from the Mars atmosphere to space has played through time
2) Determine the current state of the upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and interactions with the solar wind
3) Determine the current rates of escape of neutral gases and ions to space and the processes controlling them
4) Determine the ratios of stable isotopes in the Martian atmosphere

The instrument suites will include:
    Particles and Field (P&F)Package
  • Solar Wind Electron Analyzer
  • Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA)
  • Suprathermal and Thermal Ion Composition
  • Solar Energetic Particle (SEP)
  • Lagmuir Probe and Waves (LPW)
  • Magnetometer (MAG)
  • Remote Sensing (RS) Package
  • Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrometer
  • Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer (NGIMS)