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This November 18, 2013, the MAVEN Mission (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center to Mars. Its objectives: studying the Martian upper atmosphere and ionosphere, as well as their interactions with the solar wind. The data collected by the various instruments – which include a detector designed by a team of IRAP (OMP-CNRS/Université Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier) – will lead to better understand the effects of the exhaust of the Martian atmosphere into space, to track the climate change on the Red Planet, its surface composition in liquid water and thus to study its past habitability.

Three-Four billion years ago, the Martian atmosphere was dense enough to allow the existence of liquid water on its surface. But following abrupt climate change, the red planet has lost almost all of its atmosphere.

The MAVEN mission will perform the necessary measurements to better understand the reasons for the current atmospheric escape, and thus to trace the climatic history of the planet. For this purpose, eight scientific instruments will be shipped: a magnetometer, a mass spectrometer dedicated to the analysis of ions and neutral gas, a Langmuir probe, an imaging spectrometer in the ultraviolet, an analyzer of the solar wind electrons, an analyzer of the solar wind ions, a detector of the solar energy particles, an analyzer of the composition of the thermal and suprathermal ions. These instruments were designed by teams from the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the NASA Goddard and the IRAP (OMP-CNRS/Université Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier).

After being selected by the CNES in 2006, the IRAP has been responsible for the realization of the SWEA instrument (for “Solar Wind Electron Analyzer”, spectrometer of the solar wind electrons) as part of the payload in the PFP ensemble (“Particle and Fields Package”) with 5 instruments among the 9 Maven experiments (PI LASP, University of Colorado, Boulder). Christian Mavelle, researcher at IRAP, is the scientific leader (Lead Co-Investigator) of the instrument. The two other scientists co-investigators are Jean-André Sauvaud and Dominique Toublanc, also researchers at IRAP.

The IRAP technical team featured up to 10 people. IRAP has defined the design of the instrument and of its subsystems, provided the assembly of the mechanical parts made by a subcontractor, performed the integration and the tests of the electronics of the instrument and performed all calibrations thereof.

SWEA detector made by IRAP

Christian Mazelle adds: “In particular, our team has been a pioneer in what is called the “planetary protection” for this type of instrument as we had to provide a “clean” instrument devoid as possible not only of dust (detector and electronics) but also of any contamination by micro-organisms (spores, bacteria) in case the probe would crash on Mars. This important effort has greatly complicated the work of the technical team up to sometimes triple the time required for certain tasks. The technical implementation itself took place over a period of two years before the delivery to the U.S. partner (Space Sciences Laboratory, UC Berkeley) in January 2012.”

The departure for Mars of the SWEA instrument, designed by a team of IRAP, occurs two years after that of the famous ChemCam, on board the Curiosity rover. At the IRAP, the Martian adventure thus goes on …

IRAP Contact

  • Christian Mazelle,

Additional Contents :

The liftoff was nominal!


Christian Mazelle : “Maven has been successfully launched from Cape Canaveral. The Atlas V launch vehicle lifted off exactly at the scheduled hour (1:28 p.m. local time). Telemetry probe was received nominally and solar panels are perfectly deployed for optimal feeding. Maven begins its 10-month journey to Mars that it will reach on September 22, 2014. It is a great satisfaction for the whole team of the SWEA instrument after all her efforts. A new Martian adventure begins! Go Maven!”



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