Driving force behind Mars Express
21 November 2002The Ferrari Red Paint will not be the only thing breaking all speed records when it hurtles towards the Red Planet on-board the Mars Express spacecraft in 2003. The spacecraft itself has already broken some speed records of its own. Mars Express is the fastest-built satellite of its type in the history of space engineering.
The unique way in which ESA drove the Mars Express project cut the amount of time from the original concept to actually putting contractors to work from the usual five years to just one year. Moreover, two years were shaved off the design and building phase - cutting it from the usual six to four years. However, there has been no compromise on the quality of the mission.
By stepping on the accelerator in this way, ESA has also cut the cost of the mission in half. Mars Express will have been built and launched with a total budget of 203 million Euros (at 2001 economic conditions). This budget pays for the building of the spacecraft, the launch by a Russian Soyuz-Fregat launcher, all the scientific operations and administration cost, and the elaborate series of tests that any satellite has to endure to ensure its effectiveness.
Although these costs show good value for money, Mars Express has maintained strict quality on its engineering. Engineers built the spacecraft largely using technology that has already been developed for other space missions. Up to 80% of the hardware making up Mars Express was originally designed for Rosetta, ESA's satellite that will be the first in history to land on a comet.
The name 'Mars Express' perfectly sums up the extremely efficient way that ESA has steered the mission. However, the original 'Express' name was for a quite different reason. Scientists chose the name to reflect the fact that by being launched in the Summer of 2003, the spacecraft will have the shortest journey to reach the Red Planet. It is at that moment that Earth and Mars make their closest approach to each other for 17 years.
The same 'Express' name has been given to the Venus Express mission. Venus Express, due for launch in November 2005, will reuse the Mars Express spacecraft design. It will also benefit from the project teams already established both at ESA and industry-wide, to reduce costs substantially.
The success of the Mars Express project is a demonstration of how ESA's working methods are changing. In addition, ESA has launched a new initiative called DevILS that will cut costs and building times even further. The aim of DevILS is to develop 'intelligent', lightweight spacecraft systems that ESA can use on future missions.