ESA PR 28-2003 ESA's Mars Express ready for launch
5 May 2003Just before midnight on 2 June 2003 (23:45 local time, 19:45 CEST), a Soyuz rocket operated by Starsem will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, and Mars Express will be on its way. The spacecraft was given the green light to launch following a successful flight readiness review on 3 May 2003.
The Mars Express launch window opens on 23 May 2003 and lasts only four weeks. However, just before the spacecraft was due to leave Toulouse, France, for its trip to Baikonur in Kazakhstan, engineers discovered a fault in one of the electronics modules. "Of course, it was the most difficult box to remove from the spacecraft," says Rudi Schmidt, the Mars Express Project Manager, with a smile.
In view of the estimated time needed to correct the fault, the launch date was initially put back from 23 May to 6 June 2003, still within the launch window. However, thanks to the skill and dedication of the engineering team, the job was completed sooner than expected and the launch date was brought forward.
Mars Express is currently being fuelled, an operation that takes about a week. It will then be attached to Fregat, the Soyuz upper stage rocket booster, and mated with the Soyuz rocket. The whole system will be rolled out to the pad four days before launch. The journey to Mars will take six months and the spacecraft should enter its Martian orbit on 26 December 2003.
Europe's contribution to the exploration of the Red Planet will begin soon.
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