Mars Express, so called because of the rapid and streamlined development time, represents ESA's first visit to another planet. Since launch in 2003, the mission has produced a range of significant results in its search for answers to fundamental questions about the geology, atmosphere, surface environment, history of water, and potential for life on Mars. The spacecraft built on previous work by borrowing technology from the Mars 96 mission (which had failed to reach Earth orbit) and from ESA's Rosetta mission (currently accompanying comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in its orbit around the Sun). Mars Express also paves the way for future exploration as a part of a communications infrastructure for other missions.
Mars Express is so called because it was built more quickly than any other comparable planetary mission. The Beagle-2 lander was named after the ship in which Charles Darwin sailed when formulating his ideas about evolution.
Mass & Power Budget
|Spacecraft Item||Mass at Launch|
|Spacecraft Bus||439 kg|
|Launch Mass||1223 kg|
|Typical Mean Power Demand||Observation||Manoeuvre||Communication|
|Spacecraft||270 W||310 W||445 W|
|Payload||140 W||50 W||55 W|
|Total||410 W||360 W||500 W|
|Spacecraft bus dimensions||1.5 × 1.8 × 1.4 m|
|Thrust of main spacecraft engine||400 N|
|Attitude thrusters||8 at 10 N each|
|Propellant tanks volume||2×270 = 540 litres|
|Pointing accuracy||Better than 0.05°|
|Solar array area||11.42 m²|
|Lithium batteries||3 at 22.5 Amp hour each (at launch)|
|Spacecraft bus||10-20 °C|
|PFS, OMEGA||-180 °C|
|Thermal blanket||Gold-plated AISn alloy|
Mars Express was launched from the Fregat upper stage towards Mars with an absolute velocity of 116 800 km per hour and a velocity relative to the Earth of 10 800 km per hour. On 19 December 2003, 5 days before orbit insertion, the Beagle-2 lander was successfully released towards the surface of the planet. However, no further contact was made with the lander and it was subsequently declared lost. (In January 2015, the UK space agency announced that the lander has been identified in images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The images appeared to show the lander partially deployed on the surface.) On 25 December 2003 the orbiter underwent a successful orbit insertion manoeuvre and after slow orbit adjustments it reached the operational orbit.
The European Space Operations Control Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt communicates with the spacecraft via the ESA New Norcia ground station in Perth, Australia. The spacecraft sends housekeeping data on instrument temperatures, voltages and spacecraft orientation, for example, and science data. The ground station sends control commands to the spacecraft. Scientific data is stored onboard using the 12 Gbit solid state mass memory prior to the downlink to Earth.
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