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MAVEN Spacecraft Moving Closer to Mars, to Act as Comms Relay for 2020 Rover

Next year, NASA will be sending to Mars a brand new rover, tasked with perhaps the most important mission assigned to a man-made machine: getting things ready for possible human arrival.
MAVEN orbit change stages 1 photo
Preparations for the launch and landing are in full swing, both on Earth and near Mars: on our planet, the rover is currently undergoing final testing and fitting. In orbit around Mars, machines are being moved to facilitate the success of the mission.

On Monday, NASA said it has begun moving the orbiting Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft (MAVEN) closer to the planet, as it will be the tool used as a communications relay between the rover and mission control.

MAVEN is currently orbiting the Red Planet at a distance of 3,850 miles (6,200 km) but will have to reduce that to 2,800 miles (4,500 km). Moving the spacecraft closer will give it both a stronger signal and more frequent communication with the rover thanks to the increased number of orbits it will achieve.

MAVEN launched from Earth in 2013, as it was meant to analyze the composition of the planet’s atmosphere. Its projected lifespan was of only two years, but as most other NASA machines sent in space, it far outlived that estimate.

The spacecraft has enough fuel to last it well into 2030, and the space agency plans to use it as relay for as long as possible.

"The MAVEN spacecraft has done a phenomenal job teaching us how Mars lost its atmosphere and providing other important scientific insights on the evolution of the Martian climate," said in a statement Jim Watzin, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program.

"Now we're recruiting it to help NASA communicate with our forthcoming Mars rover and its successors."

As for the still unnamed 2020 Rover, it is scheduled to launch in July or August 2020 and will land in the Jezero Crater in February 2021.

Once on the ground, it will look for signs of life, assess the habitability of the environment, track natural resources and hazards and even try to generate oxygen.

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