Europe shoots for Mars with robotic orbiter and lander
BY STEPHEN CLARK
SPACEFLIGHT NOW

Posted: May 28, 2003


An illustration of the Mars Express mission -- the orbiter and Beagle 2 lander. Credit: Astrium
 
An unprecedented international scientific assault on Earth's cosmic neighbor will be launched in June as four spacecraft are fired to Mars, beginning next week with Europe's first mission to the Red Planet.

With the opportunity to dispatch space probes to Mars once every 26 months, when the planets are suitably aligned, this window sees the Mars Express orbiter and compact lander, called Beagle 2, leading the charge with a planned June 2 launch. NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rovers will follow on June 8 and 25.

 
An artist's concept of Mars Express atop the Fregat stage. Credit: ESA
 
Liftoff of the Mars Express spacecraft aboard a venerable Russian Soyuz booster with a Fregat upper stage is set for Monday at 1745 GMT (1:45 p.m. EDT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz rocket's three core stages will fire before releasing the Fregat upper stage and Mars Express just under 9 minutes into flight. Separation of Mars Express from the launcher is expected following two Fregat burns about 90 minutes after liftoff.

During its 7-month cruise to the Red Planet, the 2,500-pound Mars Express will undergo a maximum of three course correction maneuvers as required. An initial round of instrument checkout is expected about a month after launch, with another testing period set for late this year prior to Mars arrival, Mars Express project manager Rudolf Schmidt said.

With a June 2 launch date, the Mars Express orbiter will eject the tiny British Beagle 2 lander on December 19.


The Beagle 2 lander package separates from Mars Express orbiter. Credit: ESA
 
Touchdown on the Martian surface will occur in the early morning hours of December 25, European time. (See full story on Beagle 2.)

Mars Express will begin the process of orbit injection close to the same time, Schmidt told Spaceflight Now.

As the first European spacecraft to visit a planet, Mars Express leads the way for missions in the pipeline for the coming years to Venus and Mercury.

"Mars Express is leading the way into the solar system for Europe," said Professor David Southwood, director of ESA's science program. "This is an important mission because Mars is much like Earth's brother planet, who turned out to be quite different. We have to try to understand why it's so different."

One of the major goals of the Mars Express orbiter is to search for water and moisture embedded within the planet's surface. Such sub-surface water concentrations could exist in the forms of aquifers, pools, rivers, or permafrost, scientists say.

Essential for life, water on the Red Planet is known to be stored in polar ice caps, but evidence gathered by previous missions suggests water existed in abundance almost 4 billion years ago early in the planet's history.

But a so far unexplainable something happened since then that made most of the water disappear. The air pressure rapidly decreased, making liquid water on the surface impossible to form. However, scientists believe it is still possible for water to be present up to a few kilometers below the surface, where temperatures and pressures are more likely to harbor its existence.


Mars Express in orbit around the Red Planet. Credit: NASA
 
Radar sounding instruments will attempt to create a sub-surface map down to a few kilometers deep. Others will examine processes that could have allowed the water on early Mars to escape the planet.

Mars Express also carries with it a high resolution camera that will image the entire surface of the Red Planet. Spectrometers will also determine mineral compositions on the surface and study the make-up of the Martian atmosphere.

The orbiter has a baseline mission lasting about two years, but it is expected that it will operate in some capacity until at least 2007 to help relay communications between Earth and other spacecraft at Mars.

Flight Data File
Vehicle: Soyuz-Fregat
Payload: Mars Express
Launch date: June 2, 2003
Launch window: 1745 GMT (1:45 p.m. EDT)
Launch site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Satellite broadcast: In Europe on Astra 2C, Transponder 57, freq. 10832 MHz

Pre-launch briefing

Mars Express - Our story providing an overview of Mars Express mission.

Beagle 2 - Our story looking at this tiny lander and the search for past or present life.

Orbiter instruments - A summary of the instruments aboard Mars Express.

Trajectory - An illustration showing Mars Express' track from launch until Mars.

Soyuz rocket - Overview of the Russian Soyuz rocket used in this launch.

Apollo 11 special patch
Special collectors' patch marking the 35th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing is now available.
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K. - E.U. - Worldwide

Inside Apollo mission control
An insider's view of how Apollo flight controllers operated and just what they faced when events were crucial.
 Choose your store:
U.S.

The ultimate Apollo 11 DVD
This exceptional chronicle of the historic Apollo 11 lunar landing mission features new digital transfers of film and television coverage unmatched by any other.
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K. - E.U. - Worldwide

Next ISS crew
Own a little piece of history with this official patch for the International Space Station's Expedition 11 crew. We'll ship yours today!
 Choose your store:
U.S.

Hubble Posters
Stunning posters featuring images from the Hubble Space Telescope and world-renowned astrophotographer David Malin are now available from the Astronomy Now Store.
 U.S. STORE
 U.K. & WORLDWIDE STORE

Clearance sale


Price cuts on spectacular calendars featuring the Hubble Space Telescope, Space Station and Earth from space.
 U.S. STORE
 U.K. & WORLDWIDE STORE

Get e-mail updates
Sign up for our NewsAlert service and have the latest news in astronomy and space e-mailed direct to your desktop (privacy note: your e-mail address will not be used for any other purpose).
Enter your e-mail address:

ERROR: Random File Unopenable

ERROR: Random File Unopenable

The random file, as specified in the $random_file perl variable was unopenable.

The file was not found on your file system. This means that it has either not been created or the path you have specified in $trrandom_file is incorrect.
Columbia Report
The official accident investigation report into the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its crew of seven. Includes CD-ROM.
 Choose your store:
U.S.

Columbia Report
A reproduction of the official accident investigation report into the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its crew of seven.
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K. - E.U. - Worldwide

Mars Panorama

DISCOUNTED! This 360 degree image was taken by the Mars Pathfinder, which landed on the Red Planet in July 1997. The Sojourner Rover is visible in the image.
 Choose your store:
U.S.

Apollo 11 Mission Report
Apollo 11 - The NASA Mission Reports Vol. 3 is the first comprehensive study of man's first mission to another world is revealed in all of its startling complexity. Includes DVD!
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K. - E.U. - Worldwide

Rocket DVD
If you've ever watched a launch from Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg Air Force Base or even Kodiak Island Alaska, there's no better way to describe what you witnessed than with this DVD.
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K. - E.U. - Worldwide

Mars rover collectible patch

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

This commemorative patch celebrates NASA's Curiosity rover mission of the Mars Science Laboratory in search of clues whether the Red Planet was once hospitable to life.
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE


INDEX | PLUS | NEWS ARCHIVE | LAUNCH SCHEDULE
ASTRONOMY NOW | STORE

ADVERTISE

© 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.