Curiosity may be busy studying the Martian surface, but NASA is not done with Mars just yet. One of the big planned missions to the red planet is MAVEN, which stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, a space probe that is designed to study the Martian atmosphere, or rather, the lack of it.
Its primary goal is to determine how Mars lost the vast majority of its atmosphere into space, along with its water.
The craft is being built at Lockheed Martin's Space Systems where technicians are busy assembling it.
With only one year left until the desired launch date, things are on a tight schedule. It's bound to leave Earth between November 18 and December 7, 2013.
It will arrive near Mars 10 months later. The craft is currently in assembly
with testing starting early next year.
MAVEN will circle Mars in a highly elliptical orbit, giving it a chance to study different regions of Mars' upper atmosphere and surrounding areas. On five occasions, MAVEN will swoop down to as low as 150 km, 93 miles above the planet.
The plan is to use MAVEN to study the conditions around Mars for an Earth year, but it could go in an extended mission of up to nine years. The hope is that MAVEN will provide critical clues as to why Mars has so little atmosphere left.