Lockheed Martin has announced that it has begun the final assembly process for the MAVEN spacecraft. MAVEN is expected to launch in 2013 and stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft. NASA plans to use the spacecraft to understand the upper Martian atmosphere.
MAVEN is scheduled to launch in November 2013 and Lockheed Martin has now begun the assembling, testing, and launch operations phase for the project. Over the next five months Lockheed Martin technicians will be installing the subsystems on the main spacecraft structure. The main systems that will be installed include avionics, power, telecommunications gear, mechanisms, thermal systems, guidance, navigation, and control systems. The propulsion system for the spacecraft was installed earlier this year.
Lockheed Martin powered up the spacecraft for the first time in August of this year using the spacecraft flight software. The scientific instruments the spacecraft will use are being delivered to Lockheed Martin at the manufacturer's Littleton, Colorado facility for integration into the spacecraft. Once the final assembly is complete the spacecraft will undergo environmental testing.
The environmental testing is expected to begin in early 2013. MAVEN is a robotic exploration mission with the goal of determining the role that loss of atmospheric gas into space played in climate change on Mars. The spacecraft will attempt to determine how much Martian atmosphere was lost over time by measuring the current rate of atmosphere escape into space. Once enough data has been gathered scientists will be able to extrapolate backwards in time to see how much atmosphere the planet once had.