It's been a week since the successful launch of NASA's MAVEN mission and your Cosmic Chatter team has sadly returned from Florida. So how did the first week of the mission go?
It's all good news right now. The launch went flawlessly, and all spacecraft systems are functioning as expected. The probe has been in constant contact with mission controllers here on the Earth. Upcoming events include a series of trajectory correction maneuvers (TCMs) and the possible observation of comet ISON.
While a trajectory correction maneuver might seem worrisome, it's perfectly normal. Even a "flawless" rocket launch like last Monday's has a margin for error. The Atlas V shot MAVEN in the direction of Mars, but it's not quite the exact path needed for the mission. To correct for this, mission controllers will command the spacecraft to fire its onboard rockets in short bursts to nudge the probe onto the correct path. A series of TCMs will be used to refine the orbit in an iterative fashion. The first TCM is planned for 3 December.
Whether MAVEN gets to observe comet ISON is less certain. The comet is currently coming around the Sun, where it will pass extraordinarily close to the solar surface. The date of closest approach is 28 November (Thanksgiving here in the US!). We won't know until after this date whether the comet has survived its encounter. If it has, MAVEN will have a prime viewing opportunity for this unique object. If you haven't had a chance yet, check out our interview with one of the scientists hoping to observe ISON.
Note: the MAVEN mission was developed at and is operated by my employer, the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado - Boulder.