NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft in orbit of Mars has begun a series of aerobraking maneuvers with the planet’s atmosphere to lower its orbit as the craft prepares for its added task of serving as a communications relay station for NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 rover scheduled to launch next year.
The orbit lowering operation comes four years after MAVEN’s arrival at the Red Planet and while the craft’s instruments continue to reveal how Mars’ atmosphere interacts with the solar wind, which recently involved solving a case of stolen electrons.
Lowering MAVEN’s orbit:
The MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) spacecraft has been in orbit of Mars since 22 September 2014 following a 10-month cruise through the interplanetary void between Earth and Mars.
Launched on 18 November 2013 by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, the mission carried a primary duration of one Earth year.
Like almost every single NASA mission, MAVEN has vastly outlived its anticipated lifetime thanks to its robust engineering and NASA’s plan from the beginning to utilize the satellite as a communications relay and for additional scientific observations of the Martian atmosphere after its primary mission was completed.
In fact, ...