NASA’s Colorado-built Mars Satellite Lifts Off, Starts 10-Month Trip

11/18/13Follow @MichaelXBD

The Colorado-built MAVEN satellite blasted off today for its mission to the Red Planet.

MAVEN—or the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission—will orbit Mars and study its atmosphere. The question MAVEN is trying to answer is how Mars’ loss of atmospheric gases affected its climate.

The rocket carrying MAVEN launched at 1:28 EST and the spacecraft has successfully separated from the launch vehicle, according to a NASA release.

The $671 million mission has a number of ties to Colorado. A team of scientists from the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics designed three of the satellite’s instruments and will lead the research component of the mission. Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) built the satellite at its facility in Littleton and will manage mission operations. The United Launch Alliance, which is based in Centennial, built the launch vehicle.Scientists believe that about 4 billion years ago, Mars was a lot like Earth. With MAVEN, they’re looking for clues about climate change, how the planet lost its atmosphere, and what happened to the water that once was on the planet’s surface, said Bruce Jakosky, the CU professor who is the mission’s principal investigator.

But the questions aren’t limited to planetary history, Jakosky said in a statement.

“What we are really trying to do is understand our relationship to the universe around us,” said Jakosky. “That includes what it means to be alive and what it means to be a civilization. By exploring the universe, we are exploring the human condition.”

MAVEN is slated to begin orbiting Mars in September 2014. It will take measurements of the planet for about a year, but it is possible the mission could be extended to last a decade, Jakosky said.

Michael Davidson is the editor of Xconomy Boulder/Denver. He covers startups, venture capital, clean tech, energy, aerospace, telecoms, and whatever else happens above 5,280 feet. Contact him at mdavidson@xconomy.com. Follow @MichaelXBD

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