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Mars Express
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Mars Express
Mars Express Mission to Mars

Mission Type: Orbiter
Launch Vehicle: Soyuz-Fregat
Launch Site: Baikonur, Kazakstan
Spacecraft Mass: 439 kg
Spacecraft Instruments:
1) High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC)
2) Energetic Neutron Atoms Analyser (ASPERA)
3) Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS)
4) Visible and Infrared Mineralogical Mapping Spectrometer (OMEGA)
5) Sub-Surface Sounding Radar Altimeter (MARSIS)
6) The Radio Science Experiment (MaRS)
7) Ultraviolet and Infrared Mars Atmospheric Spectrometer (SPICAM)
8) Lander (Beagle 2)
Spacecraft Dimensions: 1.5 by 1.8 by 1.4 m
Spacecraft Power: Solar Panels and Lithium batteries
Maximum Power: 500 W
European Space Agency's Mars Express Homepage,

Launching in June 2003, Mars Express has been orbiting the Red Planet since December 2003. Mars Express is Europe's first mission to Mars, and was completed in less time than any other comparable planetary mission by the European Space Agency (ESA), hence its name: Mars Express.

The mission consisted of an orbiter and lander. Unfortunately, Mars Express lost contact with the lander before it reached the surface in December of 2003. (The lander was named for the ship HMS Beagle on which Charles Darwin was a passenger.) Beagle 2 was designed to study Martian weather and climate, the geology and the mineral and chemical composition of the landing site, as well as search for past life on Mars.

Mars Express continues to take breathtaking, high-resolution images of the surface in 3D and in color. The spacecraft carries the first radar instrument ever flown to Mars, which has returned pioneering sub-surface sounding measurements that show underground water-ice deposits.

Mars Express has also beamed back mineralogical evidence for the presence of liquid water throughout Martian history and has studied the density of the Martian crust in detail. It was also the first spacecraft to detect methane in the planet's atmosphere from orbit.

In addition to the above, the spacecraft pioneered the detection of aurorae at mid latitudes, provided estimates on the rate at which Mars' atmosphere escapes into space and studied Mars' two moons Phobos and Deimos; taking a close look at Phobos, in particular.

This mission has been extended until December 2016, with confirmation of that extension in mid-2014. This extension allows for more data and image collection by the spacecraft. Data from Mars Express will also help inform the selection of the landing site for the InSight mission to Mars, which is slated to launch in 2016.

Key Dates
2 Jun 2003:  Launch (17:45 UT)
19 Dec 2003:  Beagle 2 Lander Release (Unsuccessful)
25 Dec 2003:  Mars Orbit Insertion
Status: Extended Mission in Progress
Fast Facts
Mars Express Facts Mars Express was completed in less time than any other comparable planetary mission by ESA, hence its name: Mars Express. Mars Express is also ESA's first visit to another planet.

Mars Express used 427 kg (941 pounds) of fuel to boost itself into orbit around the Red Planet.

Mars Express carries a small sample of Ferrari's red paint (Rosso Corsa) in a tiny 2 cm glass globe nicknamed "Fred." Ferrari red is synonymous with speed and this paint sample aboard Mars Express traveled 10,800 km/h (6,711 miles/h). Now that's fast.

Mars Express was the was the first spacecraft to detect methane in the planet's atmosphere from orbit.

The orbiter also found Mars' auroras are unique from other planets in our solar system.
Science & Technology Features
People Spotlight
Steve Squyres Steve Squyres
Steve is best known as principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers, but he's contributed to many of the greatest robotic missions. Read More...
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Last Updated: 10 Mar 2014