Image Credit: ESA

Launch Date June 2, 2003 | 17:45 UT
Launch Site Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Russia
Destination Mars
Type Orbiter
Status Successful—Extended Mission in Progress
Nation Europe
Alternate Names 2003-022A, Mars Express Orbiter

Goals

Study the martian atmosphere and climate, the planet's structure, its mineralogy and its geology, and to search for traces of water from orbit. Mars Express also carried Britain’s Beagle 2 lander.

Accomplishments

The spacecraft’s high-resolution camera, which has sent back thousands of dramatic, 3-D views of the Martian surface. One instrument has discovered hydrated minerals that form only in the presence of liquid water, providing confirmation that Mars was once much wetter than it is today. The first radar sounder ever to orbit another planet has detected subsurface layers of water ice. Another instrument has detected enough water ice in the polar caps to create a global ocean 11 meters deep, and revealed vast plains of permafrost around the South Pole.

Mars Express found the highest clouds ever seen above any planetary surface at 62 miles (100 kilometers). The mission found indications of the possible presence of methane, which on Earth is attributed to active volcanism and biochemical processes.

Its highly elliptical orbit has enabled the spacecraft to look beyond Mars, in order to survey its two tiny moons, particularly the innermost satellite Phobos, which has been studied in unprecedented detail.

During its lifetime it has acted as a communication relay between Earth and various NASA spacecraft, including the Phoenix lander and several rovers on the surface.

Key Dates

June 2, 2003: Launch

Dec 19, 2003: Beagle 2 Lander Release (Unsuccessful)

Dec. 25, 2003: Mars Orbit Insertion

Spacecraft

Launch Vehicle: Soyuz-Fregat

Spacecraft Mass: 2,696 pounds (1,223 kilograms) at launch

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)

Additional Resources

European Space Agency: Mars Express

National Space Science Data Center Master Catalog: Mars Express

Solar System News