Tag Archives: MAVEN

MAVEN in safe mode

A timing conflict between two computers on board MAVEN has put the Mars probe into safe mode.

The issue seems relatively minor and something that engineers should resolve without difficulty. Even so, I refuse to use the bureaucratic term “glitch” to describe it, as the article does, as this term is often employed by government employees to disguise much more serious problems. Journalists shouldn’t help them do this.

First results back from the U.S. MAVEN Mars probe

Scientists have released the first results from NASA’s MAVEN probe orbiting Mars, designed to study that planet’s upper atmosphere.

As expected, the spacecraft has quickly found evidence of the Martian atmosphere leaking away into space.

Hydrogen appears to be leaving the planet’s atmosphere in clumps and streams that reach about 10 Mars radii into space, said Mike Chaffin, a MAVEN scientist also at the University of Colorado, who discussed the results at a 14 October news briefing. The hydrogen comes from water vapour that breaks apart in the upper atmosphere; because hydrogen is so much lighter than oxygen, it escapes into space relatively easily. “That’s effectively removing water from the Martian atmosphere,” says Chaffin.

Other images show oxygen and carbon drifting away from the planet, although these heavier atoms cluster closer to Mars than hydrogen. Deep within the atmosphere, oxygen forms ozone molecules that accumulate near Mars’s south pole.

MAVEN enters Mars orbit

Upon completion of its engine burn this evening at 10:10 pm (eastern), MAVEN successfully entered Mars orbit.

Stephen Clark’s status updates on Spaceflight Now were accurate, informative, and right on the money. The live telecast on NASA-TV was confusing, idiotic, distracting, and uninformed. They never once announced when the engine burn had started, ignored the reactions of the people in the control room when they cheered some important event, and spent a lot of time discussing facts that were irrelevant to this event, which is “Will MAVEN achieve orbit!?” Worst of all, the male “anchor” was clearly ignorant of the mission while the female “anchor” spoke in a sing-song manner as if her audience were kindergarten toddlers who needed careful herding. All in all, it was embarrassing to watch.

They did manage to shut up just in time to catch the announcement from mission control that telemetry had confirmed that MAVEN had reached orbit. They then went back to chattering about irrelevant stuff. As I said, embarrassing.

The next week in space

For the next week there are going to be a number of important events that will determine the success or failure of a number of important space missions. I thought I’d lay out the schedule in a quick post, just to make it clear.

  • Falcon 9 launch: SpaceX is hoping to launch its Dragon capsule to ISS tonight at 2:14 am (eastern). If they are successful, it will be the fourth Falcon 9 launch since July 14. That is a very fast-paced launch schedule, as good as any other launch company’s, and more evidence that SpaceX is an effective competitor in the resurgent launch market.
  • Mavin orbital insertion: NASA hopes to place this Mars mission into orbit on Sunday at around 9:50 pm (eastern).
  • India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also known as Mangalyaan: There are two important events this week for this mission. First, on Monday, September 22, engineers will do a test firing of the spacecraft’s engine, which has been inactive for the last several months during its cruise to Mars. If that firing is successful, they will do the orbital insertion burn on Wednesday, September 24.

So, stay tuned this week for some fun stuff. And as I’ve been saying, this is only the beginning.

NASA has decided to exempt its Mars probe, MAVEN, from the government shutdown, allowing preparations to resume for its November launch.

NASA has decided to exempt its Mars probe, MAVEN, from the government shutdown, allowing preparations to resume for its November launch.

NASA Headquarters in Washington determined that Maven’s preparations should go ahead on an emergency basis — not because of its scientific objectives, but because of its expected role as a communications relay satellite for the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers on Mars. “Both Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Odyssey have been acting as communication relays, but they’ve passed their design lifetime,” Jakosky explained. “Maven carries communication equipment to take over that job as necessary. Getting us launched at this opportunity is a way to preserve that ability to communicate.”

As I’ve said before, as much as I am in favor of launching this kind of science mission, the number of arbitrary decisions relating to this shutdown makes the whole thing look ridiculous. NASA can act to protect its investments on Mars, but the National Park Service is required to interfere with the normal actions of private restaurants here on Earth?

The truth is that these science missions really don’t fall under the intended definition of “essential operations”. The federal bureaucracy, under the direction of the White House, is simply stretching that definition for their own convenience, wherever they like.

With a launch window from November 18 to December7, the government shutdown might delay NASA’s next Mars unmanned probe MAVEN until 2016.

Chicken Little report: With a launch window from November 18 to December7, the government shutdown might delay NASA’s next Mars unmanned probe MAVEN until 2016.

It is absolutely possible that the shutdown could cause MAVEN to miss its launch window. Such is life. The world won’t end, and as much as I am a big supporter of space exploration, I also recognize that there are actually bigger issues than NASA hanging in the balance.

Note that the article above bleeds tears for the poor government officials who might not get paid during the shutdown. Well, the economy has sucked for the past five years, with no signs of improvement and plenty of evidence that Obama and Congress have done a great deal to make things worse, especially with the passage of Obamacare. Maybe we should instead have some sympathy for the people who earn the money to pay for NASA and the government and have been screaming at these politicians to just leave them alone.