Photo Credit NASA’s MAVEN Mission to Mars Timeline
MAVEN’s primary mission includes five 5-day “deep-dip” campaigns, in which the periapsis (lowest point in the orbit) is lowered from about 93 miles (150 km) to about 77 miles (125 km). The current campaign is scheduled to coincide with the periapsis of the spacecraft crossing Mars’ equator into the southern hemisphere for the first time.
At an altitude of 77 miles (125 km), Mars’ atmosphere is around 30 times more dense than it is at MAVEN’s nominal science mapping periapsis of 93 miles (150 km). To accommodate for the increase in atmospheric density, the spacecraft’s solar panels are bent at a 20° angle, which shifts the center of air pressure away from the center of gravity, providing self-stabilization.
The “deep dip” campaigns will provide data from the boundary where Mars’ upper and lower atmospheres meet—also referred to as the “homopause”—enabling the spacecraft to sample the entire upper atmosphere of Mars.
Credit Orbital ATK
The aircraft that air-launches the Pegasus rocket has been repainted with new livery to mark the recent corporate merge that formed Orbital ATK.
The L-1011 jet, named Stargazer, carries the light-class Pegasus launchers to an altitude of 39,000 feet and releases the booster to fire into space.
Pegasus has flown 42 times and the 32 using the XL version. The rocket weighs 51,000 pounds, stretches 55 feet long and is comprised of three solid-fueled stages for boosting small satellites into orbit. Launches have occurred from California, Virginia, Florida, the Canary Islands and the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
Image Credit Orbita ATK
Stargazer was delivered to Air Canada in March 1974. It was purchased by Orbital ATK in 1992 and modified as the Pegasus launch platform.With the push of a button in the Stargazer’s cockpit by the co-pilot, the rocket is cast free to fall for five seconds, dropping 300 feet below the aircraft while traveling at Mach 0.82. During the plunge, the onboard flight computer will sense the rocket’s separation from the carrier jet and issues a command to release the safety inhibits in preparation for ignition.
The first stage solid-fueled motor of Pegasus is lit at T+plus 5 seconds to begin the powered journey to orbit. The rocket’s heritage includes deploying over 70 satellites since 1990 for NASA, commercial customers and the U.S. military.
Pegasus celebrated the 25th anniversary of its maiden launch on April 5.
Two more Pegasus flights are on the NASA manifest for 2016 and 2017. The first will launch eight Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, or CYGNSS, spacecraft into orbit from Florida and the second will carry the Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, to space from the Marshall Islands.
MAVEN completed 1,000 orbits around the Red Planet on April 6, 2015, four-and-a-half months into its one-year primary mission.
MAVEN is in its science-mapping orbit and has been taking data since the start of its primary mission on Nov. 16, 2014. The furthest point (apoapsis) in the spacecraft’s elliptical orbit has been 6,500 kilometers (4,039 miles) and the closest (periapsis) 130 kilometers (81 miles) above the #Martiansurface.
Shown here is an artist’s conception of MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) observing the “Christmas lights aurora” on Mars. MAVEN observations show that aurora on Mars is similar to Earth’s “Northern Lights” but has a different origin. (Courtesy CU/LASP)
The #MAVEN spacecraft has observed two unexpected phenomena in the #Martian atmosphere: an unexplained high-altitude dust cloud and aurora that reaches deep into the Martian atmosphere.
Shown here is a map of the MAVEN Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph’s auroral detections in December 2014 overlaid on Mars’ surface. The map shows that the aurora was widespread in the northern hemisphere, not tied to any geographic location. The aurora was detected in all observations during a 5-day period, though no data were taken in the southern hemisphere and some regions in the northern hemisphere were missed. (Courtesy CU/LASP)
Read the full story, here.
Courtesy of NASA’s MAVEN Mission to Mars
Supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies blast out radiation and ultra-fast winds, as illustrated in this artist’s conception. NASA’s NuSTAR and ESA’s XMM-Newton telescopes show that these winds, containing highly ionized atoms, blow in a nearly spherical fashion. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Our Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and ESA’s (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton telescope are showing that fierce winds from a supermassive black hole blow outward in all directions — a phenomenon that had been suspected, but difficult to prove until now.
Earth’s magnetosphere is depicted with the high-energy particles of the Van Allen radiation belts (shown in red) and various processes responsible for accelerating these particles to relativistic energies indicated. The effects of an interplanetary shock penetrate deep into this system, energizing electrons to ultra-relativistic energies in a matter of seconds. Courtesy of NASA
Scientists at MIT’s Haystack Observatory, the University of Colorado, and elsewhere have analyzed data from NASA’s Van Allen Probes, and observed a sudden and dramatic effect in the aftermath of a solar shockwave: The resulting magnetosonic pulse, lasting just 60 seconds, reverberated through the Earth’s radiation belts, accelerating certain particles to ultrahigh energies.
The complete story, courtesy of MIT News is found here:
This image shows an artist concept of the MAVEN spacecraft in orbit around Mars. (Courtesy NASA/GSFC)
The MAVEN spacecraft has completed the first of five deep-dip maneuvers designed to gather measurements closer to the lower end of the #Martianupper atmosphere.
“During normal science mapping, we make measurements between an altitude of about 150 km and 6,200 km (93 miles and 3,853 miles) above the surface,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator at the University of Colorado Boulder‘s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. “During the deep-dip campaigns, we lower the lowest altitude in the orbit, known as periapsis, to about 125 km (78 miles) which allows us to take measurements throughout the entire upper atmosphere.”
The 25 km (16 miles) altitude difference may not seem like much, but it allows scientists to make measurements down to the top of the lower atmosphere. At these lower altitudes, the atmospheric densities are more than ten times what they are at 150 km (93 miles).
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Read the full release here:, courtesy of University of Colorado, LASP