Emily LakdawallaSep 11, 2013

Taking a close look at MAVEN assembly and testing videos

I've been doing research in preparation for crafting the MAVEN spacecraft in plastic canvas (as I've done before for other missions), watching some cool videos of the final assembly and testing. Here's one showing them testing the deployment of the "gull-wing" solar arrays, which are tipped with magnetometer instruments. Watch closely for when the pyros fire to release the restraints holding the arrays to the body of the spacecraft -- you'll see little parts flying out and away from MAVEN.

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MAVEN solar panel deployment test Deployment of the two "gull-wing" solar panels on the MAVEN spacecraft at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado on March 21, 2013. Wingtip to wingtip, the spacecraft measures 11.43m in length.Video: Lockheed Martin

Another thing worth noting in these videos is a major difference between the MAVEN concept art and physical reality: the thermal blanketing is actually silver, not gold as shown in the art.

MAVEN Image: Lockheed Martin

For some reason I had an impression of MAVEN as being a rather small spacecraft, but it's really quite large: 11.43 meters from wingtip to wingtip. The bus measures 2.3 by 2 by 2 meters, with a 2-meter high-gain antenna. That is a large antenna; it's not as big as Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's gargantuan 3-meter antenna, but it's considerably bigger than Odyssey's 1.3-meter one. It's similar in size to New Horizons' 2.1-meter dish.

Here's another cool video, just posted today -- ten full minutes of time-lapse photography of the spacecraft being assembled at Lockheed Martin. The jazz soundtrack is very nice. I admit that I tried to switch it to Yakety Sax, but discovered that, sadly, the "Benny Hillifier" Youtube overdubbing service seems to be broken.

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MAVEN in ATLO time-lapse The MAVEN spacecraft is shown in this time-lapse video during its Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations (ATLO) phase. MAVEN began ATLO procedures on Sept. 11, 2012 and was shipped to Kennedy Space Center's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on Aug. 2, 2013 to begin preparations for its scheduled launch on Nov. 18, 2013.Video: Lockheed Martin

I noticed something else in these videos -- that nearly everybody was wearing the usual white "bunny suit," the head-to-toe covering that prevents Earthly contamination from riding to Mars. But one person in the video was wearing what appeared to be a black suit. I joked about this on Twitter -- when I see one person in head-to-toe black, with an army of white-suited minions, who can it be but Darth Vader? (Unfortunately for whatever humor exists in this question, upon further review of the videos, there are sometimes two dark-suited people among the white suits.)

I got a chance to ask the question a bit more seriously of Tom Mason, an education and outreach person at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder (and one of the main people behind the Twitter voice of MAVEN).

It turns out the suits are not black, they are dark blue. Tom explained:

There are several people who wear the dark blue clean room suits to distinguish themselves in various test environments. In the solar array deployment video, it is Katie Oakman, Lead Mechanical Test Engineer (Katie provided narration on the Lockheed Martin version of the same video). The MAVEN Testbeds Manager (Jessica Hahn) is another person who may be seen in the Vader garb.

They almost never post the identities of the suited people in spacecraft assembly photos, and I'm sad that we don't have names. Now we know a couple!

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