NASA Mars Spacecraft
After a long journey, NASA’s Mars Atmospheric and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has made it to Mars, entering its orbit on September 21. After 10 months and 442 million miles, MAVEN took 35 hours to maneuver into an elliptical orbit around Mars. For the next year, MAVEN will take measurements of Mars from orbit, looking at composition, atmosphere, structure and interactions with the sun. Coupled with the Mars Rover, the dynamic duo will unlock all kinds of secrets about the Martian home world.
NASA and Makers
On the eve of Maven reaching Mars, NASA launched a new website called NASA Solve that acts as a gateway to all of NASA’s citizen scientist opportunities. From 3D printing on the International Space Station to asteroid tracking to rover robotics, NASA Solve features a wide variety of challenges that encourages the public to get involved. The most recent addition to the website was announced at the same time, the Mars Balance Mass Challenge. The idea is quite brilliant, Mars landers have balance mass that is used to stabilize the craft during entry and landing, and is then jettisoned from the vehicle. NASA is looking to turn this dead weight into useful scientific data, giving it dual purpose and wasting no amount of NASA real estate to further our understanding of the red planet, and to encourage citizens to be a part of this discovery. NASA is accepting written proposals until November 21, 2014.
The Vertical Assembly Center in New Orleans houses the world’s largest spacecraft welding tool, sitting some 172 feet tall and 78 feet wide. Recently made operational, the Vertical Assembly Center houses a number of tools that will be used to create the core stage of the Space Launch System (SLS). The core stage is what holds the rocket fuel that is consumed by the rocket’s four RS-25 engines, it stands more than 200 feet tall and 27.6 feet in diameter. The SLS is America’s most powerful rocket and will launch the Orion spacecraft into space, eventually sending it on its way to Mars with a manned crew.
After a 10 year orbit to reach comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta’s lander, dubbed Philae, will be landing on its surface. The landing site is located on the head of the comet which is 2.5 mile across. Philae is scheduled to land on November 11, 2014, where it will secure itself to the surface using harpoons and ice screws. From there it will collect a variety of data, analyzing the temperature in and around the comet as well as its magnetic and plasma environment. It will take samples of the comet and use its onboard lab to analyze them.