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Next mission to Mars taking shape in Colorado
The Mountain iJournals

Next mission to Mars taking shape in Colorado

Lockheed Martin builds orbiter in Littleton; CU-Boulder lab leading scientific investigation

An artist's conception of the MAVEN Mars orbiter.(Image courtesy of NASA)
An artist's conception of the MAVEN Mars orbiter.(Image courtesy of NASA)
LITTLETON—Lockheed Martin has completed the assembly of NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft and the orbiter is now undergoing environmental testing at the company's facilities near Denver.

MAVEN is the next mission to Mars and will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere.

Meanwhile, another Mars mission with Colorado ties, the Curiosity rover, for the first time, drilled a 2 1/2-inch hole into an extraterrestrial rock Friday to extract a pill-sized pinch of the planet's powder for analysis. The craft includes a robotic instrument built and designed by Boulder-based Southwest Research Institute. Boulder scientist Don Hassler is in charge of a team that is measuring the surface radiation on Mars — data that could determine whether future human expeditions to the planet are possible.

Aerospace is a key sector in Colorado's diverse economy. A Brookings Institute study shows there are more than 66,000 workers employed in the military, civil, and private sectors of aerospace. In 2011, the industry contributed roughly $8.7 billion to the state economy and it was responsible for about 3.8 percent of private-sector gross domestic product.

During the environmental testing phase of the MAVEN, the orbiter will undergo rigorous tests to simulate the extreme temperatures, vacuum and vibration the spacecraft will experience during the course of its mission.

The spacecraft is now 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.

"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 in Colorado. "Environmental testing is a crucial set of activities designed to ensure the spacecraft can operate in the extreme conditions of space."

MAVEN is scheduled to ship from Lockheed Martin's facility in Littleton, Colo., to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in early August where it will undergo final preparations for its launch in November.

The mission of the MAVEN is to understand the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the Martian climate through time. It will investigate how much of the Martian atmosphere has been lost over time by measuring the current rate of escape to space and gathering information about the relevant processes to allow extrapolate backward in time.

"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 University of Colorado at Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics 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. The University of California at Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory provides science instruments for the mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., provides navigation support.

Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs about 120,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. The Corporation's net sales for 2012 were $47.2 billion.

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