BOULDER, Colorado " The University of Colorado was chosen Monday to lead a $485 million NASA project to explore the past climate of Mars, including its potential to sustain life.
A team led by CU's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics will design, build and operate the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, or MAVEN.
The spacecraft will probe the upper atmosphere of Mars and its interactions with the sun.
Scientists will use the data to determine how the evolution of the Martian atmosphere was affected by the loss of carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, water and similar volatile compounds into space.
The results should provide insight into the history of Mar's atmosphere and water, said Bruce Jakosky, associate director for the lab and principal investigator for the mission.
"We have an outstanding mission that will obtain fundamental science results for Mars," Jakosky said.
MAVEN will carry instruments to measure characteristics of Mars' atmospheric gases, upper atmosphere, solar wind, and ionosphere " a layer of charged particles very high in the Martian atmosphere.
The CU lab built one set of instruments. The University of California, Berkeley built another with support from the CU lab and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The Goddard center is providing a third set.
Lockheed Martin, based in the Denver suburb of Littleton will build the spacecraft and carry out mission operations.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will navigate the spacecraft.
CU will provide science operations and data packaging and the Goddard center will provide management and technical oversight.