On September 21, 2014, the MAVEN spacecraft will enter orbit around Mars, completing an interplanetary journey of 10 months and 442 million miles (711 million kilometers). The orbit insertion maneuver will begin with six thruster engines firing briefly to damp out deviations in pointing. Then, the six main engines will quickly ignite and burn for 33 minutes to slow the craft, allowing it to be captured in an elliptical orbit with a period of 35 hours. Six smaller maneuvers will be performed later to bring the highest and lowest points of the orbit to the altitudes desired for the science orbit.
At its closest point, MAVEN will be flying in the upper atmosphere, about 90 miles (150 kilometers) above the surface. At its farthest point, the spacecraft will be about 3,900 mi. (6,300 km) above the surface, a vantage point that will allow it to observe the entire planet.
Following orbit insertion, MAVEN will begin a six-week commissioning phase that includes maneuvering into its final science orbit and testing the instruments and science-mapping sequences. Then, MAVEN will begin its one-Earth-year primary mission, during which it will make its key measurements.
MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the tenuous upper atmosphere of Mars. The mission’s combination of detailed point measurements and global observations provides a powerful way to understand the properties of the upper atmosphere.
The primary mission includes five “deep-dip” campaigns, in which the altitude of MAVEN’s orbit will be lowered to about 77 mi. (125 km). These measurements will provide information down to the top of the well-mixed lower atmosphere, giving scientists a full profile of the top of the atmosphere.
Article courtesy of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN Mission Facebook page