Zee Media Bureau
Washington: The US space agency (NASA) has launched its latest orbiter to Mars Monday on the hunt for clues about why the Red Planet lost much of its atmosphere.
The probe MAVEN was launched on an Atlas V rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 13:28 local time (18:28 GMT).
The 2.4-tonne spacecraft will spend about 10 months en route to the Red Planet, with arrival set for September 2014 and the science mission of the solar-wing paneled orbiter set to begin in November 2014.
MAVEN will study the planet’s upper atmosphere to understand how the Red Planet lost most of its atmosphere to space over time.
"MAVEN is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere," the US space agency said.
"The spacecraft will investigate how the loss of Mars` atmosphere to space determined the history of water on the surface."
NASA has sent a series of rovers to explore the surface of the Red Planet, including its latest, Curiosity, which arrived last year.
The deep space orbiter launched earlier this month by India seeks to find traces of methane on Mars and may arrive two days later than the US spacecraft.
The science goals of the two do not overlap much. The Indian probe will be searching for methane which could prove the existence of some ancient life form, while the US probe seeks answers about the planet`s climate change.
Much of its year-long mission will be spent circling the planet at a distance of 6,000 kilometres (3,800 miles) above the surface, but it will execute five deep dips to a height of just 125 kilometres (78 miles) to get readings of the atmosphere at various levels.
Scientists hope its findings will help pave the way for a future visit by humans to the Red Planet, perhaps as early as the 2030, NASA has said.