At launch, Mars Express became the first European Space Agency spacecraft to head for another planet. The probe, weighing 1223 kg, including the lander and the fuel, was built on ESA's behalf by a European team led by Astrium as Prime Contractor. Operational management of the Soyuz-Fregat launcher was carried out for ESA by Starsem.
On launch Daivd Southwood, ESA's Director of Science at the time, said: "Europe is on its way to Mars to stake its claim in the most detailed and complete exploration ever done of the Red Planet. We can be very proud of this and of the speed with which we have achieved this goal."
Parking Orbit and On To Mars
After launch and separation of the various stages the spacecraft was placed into a parking orbit following an initial firing of the Fregat stage. One hour and thirty-two minutes after launch the Fregat stage was reignited firing the spacecraft into interplanetary space and the start of a 400 million km ride.