Last year, NASA announced that it will send an unmanned Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiter to study the Martian upper atmosphere in 2013. And yesterday, NASA launched MAVEN towards Mars.
Without any hitch, MAVEN was launched at 1:28 pm EST, from Space Launch Complex 41, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida boarding on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, which had RD-180 engine and produced 860,200 lb of thrust. At 2:20 pm, NASA announced that MAVEN got separated from the Centaur and 20 minutes later, meaning 2:40 pm, the spacecraft unfurled its solar panels as it began its 10-month journey.
Although two rovers of NASA, Curiosity and Opportunity, are now on Mars, this is the very first step of NASA in a mission to study only the Martian upper atmosphere and learn more about the history of the planet’s climate like the rate of atmosphere loss, how the upper atmosphere interacts with the solar wind and the ratios of various isotopes. These will later be compared with similar measurements taken by the Curiosity rover on the Martian surface.
MAVEN will study Mars for year and this one-year mission is going to begin in September of next year, when it goes into Martian orbit.