NASA puts a key satellite in place for its Mars 2020 mission

To tighten MAVEN’s orbit, NASA will fire its thrusters in the next few days to lower its altitude a bit. It will then rely on the drag provided by the red planet’s upper atmosphere to slow it down every time it circles and planet and to change its trajectory in a technique known as “aerobraking.” NASA says aerobraking, which can be described as something like putting your hand outside a moving car, will allow the agency to achieve its goal while using very little fuel.

In addition to providing a stronger signal for the rover, the move will also allow the spacecraft to communicate with Mars 2020 more frequently. By orbiting at a lower altitude, the probe can circle Mars 6.8 times per (Earth) day instead of just 5.3 times, giving it a way to receive more data. MAVEN, which stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, was deployed to take a closer look at the Martian atmosphere and water. Since it entered the Martian orbit in 2014, it was able to help scientists determine that solar wind and radiation were responsible for stripping Mars of most of its atmosphere and that the planet has two types of auroras, among other discoveries.