Europe goes to Mars - preparations are well under way
06 Apr 2001If you live in Europe, there's almost certainly a research institute or industrial company near you that is contributing materials or expertise to Mars Express, Europe's first mission to the Red Planet.
Under the umbrella of the European Space Agency, at least 25 companies from 15 European countries are building hardware or software for the spacecraft, or otherwise contributing their expertise; and more than 200 scientists from research institutes in all ESA member states and beyond are contributing towards the scientific payload. "The Mars Express project is providing about 1000 jobs throughout Europe," estimates Rudi Schmidt, Mars Express Project Manager at ESTEC, the European Space Agency's technical centre in the Netherlands.
Preparations are well under way and on schedule for a May/June 2003 launch sending the spacecraft on its six-month voyage. The structure is taking shape under the guidance of the prime contractor Astrium, Toulouse (France), and the scientific teams are on target with scientific instrument development.
Water and life
ESA's Mars Express mission consists of an orbiter, carrying seven scientific experiments, and a lander element, Beagle 2. The two vehicles will play key roles in an international Mars exploration programme spanning the next two decades.
The instruments on board the orbiter will provide remote sensing of the atmosphere, the surface and up to 5 km below the surface, to a degree of accuracy never before achieved. The information gleaned will help answer many questions outstanding about Mars. One concerns the fate of water that once flowed freely on the planet?s surface; another is whether life ever evolved on Mars.
Beagle 2 will be the first lander since NASA?s two Viking probes in the 1970s to look specifically for evidence of past or present life on Mars. No other Mars probe planned so far is making exobiology so central to its mission.
When the spacecraft arrive at the Red Planet around Christmas 2003, the Mars Express orbiter will jettison Beagle 2 and then move into a near-polar orbit from which it will observe the whole planet over the next Martian year (equivalent to two Earth years). The lander will make its own way to a carefully selected site on Isidis Planitia, a plain just north of the equator near where the ancient, cratered southern highlands meet the younger, smooth northern lowlands. Beagle 2 will complete its mission in about six months.
The Mars Express orbiter instruments will:
The Beagle 2 lander will:
Mars Express will provide unique investigations that will contribute to an understanding of many of the unknowns about Mars. Here are a few:
Over the next few months, the European Space Agency in collaboration with national organisations will be holding press conferences about Mars Express at different locations across Europe. Further information will follow as soon as it is available. In the meantime, background information and regular updates on the progress of the project are available on the Mars Express web site.
For further information please contact:
ESA - Communication Department
Rudolf Schmidt, ESA - Mars Express Project Manager
Agustin Chicarro, ESA - Mars Express Project Scientist
PR contact for Beagle 2
PR contact in Astrium (Mars Express Prime Contractor):