Oct. 03--The University of Colorado announced Thursday that its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission has been cleared to proceed toward launch later this year despite the federal government shutdown.
As recently as Tuesday, CU professor Bruce Jakosky, lead scientist on the $485 million probe of the Martian atmosphere slated for launch between Nov. 18 and Dec. 7, said it could be threatened by the federal government shutdown triggered by the Congressional budget impasse.
Missing its 2013 launch window would have pushed MAVEN's launch to 2106, the next advantageous alignment of Earth and Mars.
But on Thursday, Jakosky notified CU that the MAVEN mission had been granted an emergency exemption by NASA, and could continue its preparations toward launch this year. NASA made a determination that MAVEN is required as a communications relay to ensure ongoing communications with the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers currently on Mars.
"The rovers are presently supported by Mars Odyssey, launched in 2001, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in 2005," Jakosky wrote in an email. "Launching MAVEN in 2013 protects the existing assets that are at Mars today."
Had the budget impasse caused MAVEN to miss its 2013 launch, the project would have been shut down for about 26 months, waiting until the alignment of Mars and Earth allowed for another appropriate launch window.
In his email, Jakosky, professor of geological sciences and associate director for science at CU's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, wrote that, "A delay in the launch date by more than a week past the end of the nominal launch period, or a delay of launch to 2016, would require additional fuel to get into orbit.
"This would have precluded having sufficient fuel for MAVEN to carry out its science mission and to operate as a relay for any significant time. Our nominal launch period runs from 18 November through 7 December, and we can launch as late as about 15 December without a significant impact on our combined science and relay activities. There is no NASA relay orbiter planned post-MAVEN."
MAVEN, built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., had been shut down Tuesday, the first day of the federal government shutdown, the hardware being "safed," meaning that it is put into a put into a "known, stable and safe state," Jakosky said.
"We have already restarted spacecraft processing at Kennedy Space Center, working toward being ready to launch on Nov. 18," Jakosky wrote. "We will continue to work over the next couple of days to identify any changes in our schedule or plans that are necessary to stay on track."
In an interview, Jakosky said that he was remaining "low-key" in his reaction to NASA's clearing MAVEN to proceed, because, "There are still 800,000 federal employees who are furloughed."
He added, "I am very relieved we are back on track. We are aiming at a Nov. 18 launch."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or email@example.com.
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