NASA spacecraft takes a dip to prep for Mars 2020 rover landing

In preparation for the launch of its next Mars rover, NASA is undertaking some quick, interplanetary KonMari.

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft has been orbiting Mars since September 2014, occasionally dipping into the Martian atmosphere to study how it has changed over time. However, NASA wants to load up the orbiter with an important new job: operating as a communications relay for the Mars 2020 rover mission. To do so, they’re going to tidy up its orbit just a little.

“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 Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.

In the past, MAVEN has been called on to relay signals from NASA’s Curiosity rover, but for it to help with the upcoming Mars 2020 mission, NASA is going to move it even closer to the Martian surface, boosting its ability to beam signals home. The new orbit will put MAVEN within 2,800 miles (around 4,500 kilometres) of the surface, increasing the frequency of the spacecraft’s orbiter from 5.3 orbits per Earth day to 6.8. That will allow it to check in with any land-based rovers more frequently.

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