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Emerging Capabilities

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN)

MAVEN illustration

Determining the Structure and Composition of the Martian Upper Atmosphere

Mission Overview
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission will be the first spacecraft mission dedicated to surveying the upper atmosphere of Mars. MAVEN is a robotic exploration mission to understand the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the Martian climate over time. This will help determine when and for how long liquid water could have been stable on the surface, which has implications in answering the question about whether Mars could have ever harbored life.

The principal investigator for this mission is based at the University of Colorado at Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (CU/LASP). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the project and Lockheed Martin Space Systems is building the spacecraft and will be responsible for mission operations.


  • Determine the current state of the Martian upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and interactions with solar wind
  • Measure properties and processes that will allow us to determine the integrated loss of gas to space through time
  • Determine the role that loss of volatiles from the Mars atmosphere to space has played through time, exploring the histories of Mars’ atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability

Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colo. designed the spacecraft and is responsible for assembly, test and launch operations, and mission operations. The spacecraft is based on the flight-proven designs of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Juno spacecraft – both designed and built by Lockheed Martin. MRO was launched in August 2005 and Juno was launched in August 2011.

Additionally, Lockheed Martin is basing the design of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, an asteroid sample return mission, on lesson’s learned from MAVEN. Leveraging this strong lineage of flight proven designs allows for continually improvements in mission success.

Science Mission
The science from this mission will give insight into the history of Mars' atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability overall. It will investigate how much of the atmosphere has been lost over time by measuring the current rate of escape to space and gathering enough information about the relevant processes to extrapolate backward in time. MAVEN will carry three instrument suites that are being provided by CU/LASP, Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of California at Berkeley.

Mission Dates

  • Start of assembly: August 2012
  • Launch window opens: November 18, 2013
  • Arrival and orbit insertion: September 2014