A spacecraft designed to find answers to the mystery of what happened to the bulk of the Martian atmosphere is entering final assembly at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Waterton site near Denver. Maven’s primary structure is built out of composite panels comprised of aluminum honeycomb sandwiched between graphite composite. Although weighing around 3,680 lb when fully fueled and packed with instruments, the basic structure of the spacecraft itself only weighs 275 lbs.
Due to be launched in November 2013, the Mars Atmosphere And Volatile Evolution (Maven) will be travel through the upper reaches of the Martian atmosphere, gathering data that should help scientists reconstruct a climatic history of the planet. The craft’s task is to determine how much of the Martian atmosphere has been lost over time by measuring the current rate of escape to space. Once the rate has been established, a team of researchers led by the University of Colorado and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center will extrapolate backward in time. “Maven is about understanding what happened to the atmosphere – where did it go?” says Sensing and Exploration Systems vice president and general manager Jim Crocker. “When Mars lost its magnetic field it lost its ability to deflect solar winds and this stripped the atmosphere. This will let us understand what happened.”
Engineers at Lockheed Martin are starting to build up the propulsion system of the craft following the installation of a large hydrazine propellant tank into the core of Maven. The 6ft 2 in tall tank can hold 450 gallons of hydrazine propellant and was built by ATK Aerospace in Calif. This large amount of fuel was required after Lockheed opted for a propulsive approach to Mars over aero-braking to enable a faster start to the science mission.