Mars Express Mission Extended
The MARSIS dipole post-deployment commissioning activities have ended in July. Additional commissioning activities, such as the calibration of the monopole, will be performed before or during the next nighttime optimal observing opportunity (starting in December 2005).
The Mars Express spacecraft and almost all of its payload instruments are in good condition. ESA has started a technical investigation into the anomalous behaviour of the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS), after a problem first developed in the instrument a few months ago. PFS operations were suspended from 30 August, and a test campaign is being implemented as an attempt to resolve the problem and later possibly return PFS to nominal operations.
Mars Express payload operations continued to run smoothly overall throughout the summer, with the execution of the planned Medium-Term Plans (MTP) 15 and 16. Each MTP covers 4 weeks of scientific data acquisition. Recent observing conditions have been optimum for the optical imaging instruments HRSC and OMEGA, with the observations covering the equatorial region and the pericentre moving into the Southern Highlands. ASPERA and SPICAM performed their expected observations. Two successful BSR (Bi-Static Radar) radio science experiments were conducted in late August. Following the commissioning, MARSIS has continued gathering ionospheric data, as subsurface data will only be obtained again in December 2005 when pericentre passes reach the next night time period.
The 19th Mars Express Science Working Team (SWT) meeting was held on 1 September at ESTEC. The next SWT meeting will take place around the end of the year or at the beginning of 2006. The first data acquired by MARSIS is being analysed, both for the ionosphere and for the subsurface. MARSIS has measured very clean echoes from the surface of Mars, and first indications about the ionosphere have been collected.
Science Planning Status
Mars Express is currently following a free-drift orbit that is the consequence of MARSIS deployment-related spacecraft activities. The decision was made in July to return to a frozen orbit in order to accommodate the HRSC coverage requirements with at least 10% overlap in the HRSC swaths. The corresponding manoeuvre will be conducted on 22 October 2005.
Planning has been finalized up to MTP19. MTP18 and MTP19 include the planning for a period with long eclipses (90 minutes). Science operations during this period are limited by power constraints, as well as illumination constraints. The next MTP (#20) is already part of the extended mission.
The Mars Express mission has been extended for one Martian year (687 days). The extended mission will run from 1 December 2005 until 31 October 2007.
Science Data Archiving
The second Mars Express data delivery to the Planetary Science Archive (PSA) of ESA was planned for June 2005. This data release contained data from the second half of 2004 of the HRSC and ASPERA-NPI instruments. SPICAM data from the first half of 2004 were released after a successful review.