NASA spacecraft takes a dip to prep for Mars 2020 rover landing

CNET | 2/11/2019 | Jackson Ryan
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An artist's concept of the Mars 2020 rover on the Red Planet.

In preparation for the launch of its next Mars rover, NASA is undertaking some quick, interplanetary KonMari.

Mars - Atmosphere - Volatile - EvolutioN - MAVEN

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft has been orbiting Mars since September 2014, occasionally dipping into the Martian atmosphere to study how it has changed over time. However, NASA wants to load up the orbiter with an important new job: operating as a communications relay for the Mars 2020 rover mission. To do so, they're going to tidy up its orbit just a little.

"The MAVEN spacecraft has done a phenomenal job teaching us how Mars lost its atmosphere and providing other important scientific insights on the evolution of the Martian climate," said Jim Watzin, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program.

Past - MAVEN - Signals - NASA - Curiosity

In the past, MAVEN has been called on to relay signals from NASA's Curiosity rover, but for it to help with the upcoming Mars 2020 mission, NASA is going to move it even closer to the Martian surface, boosting its ability to beam signals home. The new orbit will put MAVEN within 2,800 miles (around 4,500 kilometres) of the surface, increasing the frequency of the spacecraft's orbiter from 5.3 orbits per Earth day to 6.8. That will allow it to check in with any land-based rovers more frequently.

To get into the new orbit, NASA will use the upper Martian atmosphere as a set of brakes, with the atmospheric drag slowing the craft down ever so slightly with each transit around the Red Planet. Dipping to around 78 miles of the planet will get MAVEN into position, ready to play relay by the time the new rover lands, while still performing its...
(Excerpt) Read more at: CNET
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