Mars comes to Le Bourget
16 June 1999Visitors to the Paris air show this week can escape the roar of jets for the peace of a martian landscape. Only two small space probes disturb the tranquil atmosphere in the exhibit inside the pavilion stand by ESA, the French space agency, CNES, and Arianespace. The probes represent Beagle 2 for launch on ESA's Mars Express mission in 2003 and one of four probes to be launched as part of the CNES Netlander mission in 2005. A press conference yesterday morning heard how the two missions will cooperate to put Europe at the heart of Mars exploration early next century.
Mars Express will make observations of the red planet from polar orbit after sending Beagle 2 to the surface where it will look for signs of life. The Netlander probes plus a NASA rover will arrive two years later on board an orbiter provided by CNES. The Netlanders will record data simultaneously from four different sites whilst the rover scoops up samples of martian soil and packs them into a canister which it launches into martian orbit In a prime example of international cooperation, Mars Express will locate the canister using Doppler radiofrequency sounding, and the CNES orbiter will pick it up and bring it back to Earth. Mars Express will also help during the missions by relaying data from the probes and orbiter to Earth.