MAVEN (Mars Atmospheric and Volatile EvolutioN) is a satellite designed to investigate the dramatic climatic change the planet has experienced. Though Mars once held liquid surface water, the dense atmosphere that supported it was lost to space long ago. MAVEN will look at the area around the planet to observe how quickly the atmosphere is currently being lost to help infer what might have happened in the past.
Built by Lockheed Martin with science operations under the direction of Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado, MAVEN launched this past November and arrive around Mars on September 21st, 2014. Its one-year mission will involve a series of elliptical orbits that will dip into the upper atmosphere and directly sample the gas and ion composition. The outer solar array panels are angled slightly inward to make the satellite more stable during these operations.
Learn more about MAVEN and see pictures from its launch in my post here on National Geographic’s StarStruck blog.