Media Advisory: Sept. 21 party to celebrate MAVEN spacecraft’s arrival at Mars

ATTENTION: Reporters covering science

WHAT: A celebration of the arrival at Mars of NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft carrying four instruments built at the University of California, Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory. Speakers will describe the goals of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission and the instruments designed by UC Berkeley scientists and engineers as they watch live NASA TV coverage of a milestone: the insertion of MAVEN into Mars’ orbit.

WHEN: Sunday, Sept. 21, 4:30 p.m. until orbital insertion at 6:45 p.m. PDT

WHERE: Space Sciences Laboratory conference room, 1 Gauss Road, Berkeley. See map.

WHO: MAVEN project scientist David Mitchell and SSL project manager David Curtis, along with many staff who contributed to building more than half the instruments aboard MAVEN.

ABOUT MAVEN: On Sept. 21, the MAVEN spacecraft will enter orbit around Mars, completing an interplanetary journey of 10 months and 442 million miles. MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the tenuous upper atmosphere of Mars, and will investigate, among other things, why Mars lost its water billions of years ago. MAVEN data will allow estimates of the loss over time of volatile compounds such as water and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to space, giving insight into the history of Mars’ climate, liquid water and planetary habitability.

Sunday’s VIP reception includes a variety of activities and informational talks leading up to the moment MAVEN drops into Mars orbit.

The orbit insertion maneuver will settle MAVEN into an elliptical orbit with a period of 35 hours. At its closest point, MAVEN will be flying in the upper atmosphere, about 90 miles above the surface. At its farthest point, the spacecraft will be about 3,900 miles 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 will be in place just in time to record how Mars’ atmosphere reacts to the Oct 19 passing of comet Siding Springs, whose tail will side-swipe the planet and may pose a hazard to orbiting spacecraft such as MAVEN.

The primary mission includes five “deep-dip” campaigns, in which the altitude of MAVEN’s orbit will be lowered to about 77 miles. 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.

Media who wish to attend should contact Laura Peticolas at laura@ssl.berkeley.edu or (510) 643-6295.