After traveling approximately ten months and around 442 million miles (713 million kilometers), the MAVEN spacecraft has been showing its good side all the way to Mars.
David Mitchell, the MAVEN project manager at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said, “So far, so good with the performance of the spacecraft and payloads on the cruise to Mars. The team, the flight system, and all ground assets are ready for Mars orbit insertion.”
Once MAVEN is ready for Mars insertion, it will fire its six smaller thruster engines, which helps to stabilize the spacecraft, and then it will fire its engines for about 33 minutes to slow down.
The maneuver to slow down the spacecraft will allow it to be inserted into an elliptical orbit -- going around Mars once every 35 hours or so during its capture orbit phase of the mission.
Later, the craft will refine its orbit by performing another burn to circularize the orbit, which will make the orbit a 4.5-hour one around the planet. This phase is called the science orbit, where it will perform all of its mission objectives.
Its one-year mission is to "take measurements of the composition, structure and escape of gases in Mars’ upper atmosphere and its interaction with the sun and solar wind."
Bruce Jakosky, the MAVEN principal investigator from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, stated, “The MAVEN science mission focuses on answering questions about where did the water that was present on early Mars go, about where did the carbon dioxide go."
Jakosky added, "These are important questions for understanding the history of Mars, its climate, and its potential to support at least microbial life.”