Having travelled over 700 million kilometres, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution is getting ready to enter orbit around Mars. Hopefully, it will gather enough information to give scientists a better understanding of the planet’s atmosphere and how its climate and structure has changed over time.
It’ll take a little bit of manoeuvring for the craft to enter orbit, according to an update from NASA posted earlier this month. MAVEN will have to burn its six thrusters and use half its fuel for over 30 minutes just to slow down, after which it should find itself in orbit 380km above Mars.
However, NASA won’t know if everything worked as planned until the craft has repositioned its antenna to contact Earth. It’s at that point MAVEN’s mission will be able to start:
The team will perform six maneuvers to move the spacecraft from its insertion orbit into the four-and-a-half-hour orbit that will be used to gather science data.
This science orbit will be elliptical, with the spacecraft flying about 90 miles (approximately 150 kilometers) above the surface at periapsis, or closest point, in the orbit to “sniff” the upper atmosphere. At apoapsis, the farthest point from the surface, MAVEN will pull back 3,900 miles (roughly 6,300 kilometers) to observe the entire atmosphere.
With each pass, MAVEN will make measurements of the composition, structure and escape of atmospheric gases.
The video above explains the preparations NASA went through just to get MAVEN travelling in the right direction — much like Dave Lister, NASA plays pool with planets (well, planets, rockets and spacecraft).