The Mars mission wants to solve the mystery of its leaky atmosphere

A pair of spacecraft are undergoing final tests before their roughly 230 million-mile journey to explore the Red Planet.

This week, Rocket Lab announced that the two spacecraft it is building for NASA’s EscaPADE mission have entered the systems integration phase in preparation for launch in 2024, the company said wrote. The two-spacecraft mission will head to Mars to study the planet’s magnetosphere as part of NASA’s Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) program.

The spacecraft has passed its first systems integration test (SIR) and engineers are now beginning to integrate the flight hardware, with the solar arrays, reaction wheels, star trackers, separation systems, radios and flight software all being integrated into the spacecraft. Additional flight instruments will also be delivered by the University of California, Berkeley and other mission partners to Rocket Lab’s headquarters in Long Beach, where the integration process is taking place.

“Reaching the flight integration phase for a new spacecraft is a significant milestone, especially for a complex interplanetary mission like this,” Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab, said in the company statement.

The integration process is followed by a testing campaign that includes vibration, thermal vacuum and electromagnetic compatibility tests. Rocket Lab also conducted compatibility tests between the spacecraft and NASA’s Deep Space Network, a series of giant radio antennas that the space agency uses to communicate with its interplanetary missions.

EscaPADE, or Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers, is designed to study the processes that control the structure of Mars’ hybrid magnetosphere and how it conducts ionic currents and how energy and momentum are transported through the Martian magnetosphere by the solar wind, the study says NASA. The mission will also study the processes that control the flow of energy and matter in and out of the collision atmosphere. Importantly, the “mission will study how the solar wind strips the atmosphere from Mars to better understand how its climate has changed over time,” according to Rocket Lab. Once the mission arrives at Mars, it is expected to take about six months.

The mission was originally scheduled to launch alongside the Psyche mission to a metal-rich asteroid that lifted off on October 13, but there were problems with the required trajectory. Instead, EscaPADE is now scheduled to launch from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station sometime in 2024 Blue Origin’s new Glenn rocketwhich has suffered numerous delays.

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