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Mars Express Status Report - March 2010

Mars Express Status Report - March 2010

Main events and ActivitiesOn 3 March, Mars Express performed the closest ever flyby of Phobos, the larger of the two Martian moons. The spacecraft passed Phobos at an altitude of about 67 kilometres. The flyby was part of the Phobos flyby campaign, which started on 16 February and concluded on 26 March. The campaign, with a total of twelve flybys, provided a unique opportunity for scientific investigations of the small moon. Near the end of the campaign, on 21 and 22 March, spacecraft manoeuvres changed the Mars Express orbit to its planned final 88:25 resonance. This orbit resonance is more favourable for Mars observations by the optical instruments over the next few years of the mission.

The eighth Mars Express occultation season, which started 20 September 2009, as well as the eighth Mars Express eclipse season, which started 10 November 2009, both are ongoing. Over the course of the reporting period, the eclipse durations decreased from 29 minutes to 16 minutes.

Mission performance has been good, with an average of 1.8 science pointings and 4.7 observations per orbit. There were 107 orbits with pericentre in March, corresponding to MTP-75 and MTP-76.

  01.03.2010 01.04.2010
Spacecraft distance to Earth 116 million km 152 million km
One-way signal travel time 6m 26s 8m 26s
Orbit number #7894 #8001
Pericentre latitude 54°N 35°N
Sun elevation at pericentre -11° -16°

Phobos flyby campaign
The Phobos flyby campaign has been successfully completed. It boasted twelve flybys of Phobos at altitudes of 1340 kilometres down to 67 kilometres from the moon's surface. In February, Mars Express already performed the campaign's first four flybys. During the reporting period the last eight flybys were successfully completed on 3, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 23 and 26 March. All instruments on board Mars Express were used during the campaign to study Phobos.

Around the closest flyby on 3 March, the radio science experiment was set up to perform the most detailed measurements of Phobos' gravity field to date. The Mars Express radio signal was followed by the Madrid DSN 70m dish, by Cebreros and by three stations from the Joint Institute for Very Long Baseline Interferometry in Europe (JIVE) network.

The Phobos flyby on 3 March was the closest ever at an altitude of about 67 km. The originally planned flyby altitude was 50 km, but there was a slight over-performance by a fraction of a percent on the Phobos approach manoeuvre performed several days before the flyby. Although the over-performance was well within the normal limits of uncertainty for such manoeuvres, it meant the spacecraft would now pass Phobos several seconds later and at an altitude of 60 km. More worryingly Mars Express would also pass behind Phobos as seen from Earth. To avoid this undesired blocking of the line of sight during the radio science experiment around the time of closest approach, minor additional orbital offsets were commanded to the spacecraft within the few days remaining before 3 March. These led to a further increase of 7 km in the flyby altitude. In the end the closest ever flyby went very smooth and the signal for the radio science experiment was not blocked at closest approach, resulting in a unique set of data that will be used to study the moon's gravity and internal mass distribution.

For more details and for first results from the Phobos flyby campaign, see the links in the right-hand menu.


The instruments performed nominally during the reporting period. As part of the routine operations all instruments were operated regularly: ASPERA on 94% of the orbits, HRSC on 22%, MARSIS on 100%, OMEGA on 27%, PFS on 66%, and SPICAM on 100% of the orbits. Also 10 VMC observations were made. Together, for all instruments, 99.2% of the planned observations were executed successfully. The daily amount of returned science data was 1.7 Gbit.

Spacecraft status and performance

By end March the friction torque of reaction wheel #3 returned to the nominal levels from before December 2009 (see the December 2009 status report). On 23 March the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) of the AOCS was switched back from A (redundant) to B (nominal) after a routine monitoring check. During the monitoring period of 6 weeks the IMU-A accelerometers were checked during manoeuvres, and data was collected on the ageing of the IMU-A gyros.

Thermal and Power sub-systems
Both sub-systems are performing nominally. Moving away from Mars' solar opposition, which was on 29 January, the power consumption for thermal control continued to decrease as predicted. The measured power demand and battery discharge during the current eclipse/aphelion season remained within the predictions. The battery degradation, estimated to be around 30% below to the nominal capacity, will be re-assessed after the end of the eclipse season in April.

Telemetry, Tracking & Command (TT&C)
The TT&C sub-system is performing nominally. The telemetry bit rate was 228 kbps (maximum) over all ground stations throughout the reporting period.

Radio science investigations using the spacecraft's radio links took place on average 8 times a week. These investigations are part of the Mars Radio Science experiment (MaRS).

On 8 March a commanding test via low gain antennae (LGAe) was run over New Norcia, and on 30 March the Radio Frequency Distribution Unit (RFDU) switch #3, was tested, concluding the recommissioning of the whole TT&C redundancy.

Ground segment status and performance

Mars Express operations were supported by ground stations from the ESA tracking station network (ESTRACK) and the NASA Deep Space Network (DSN).

The number of tracks was on average 18 per week, with 22 passes completed over New Norcia (ESTRACK), 22 over Cebreros (ESTRACK), 2 over Madrid (DSN), 31 over Goldstone (DSN) and 1 over Canberra (DSN). All of the data available on-board the spacecraft has been received on ground.

Future Milestones

  • 19 April 2010: End of 8th eclipse season (started on 10 November 2009)
  • April 2010: Test of Radio Frequency Distribution Unit (RFDU) switch #3
  • 30 June 2010: Mission extension operations review
  • 15 August 2010: End of 8th occultation season (started 20 September 2009)
  • August 2010: next Phobos flyby campaign

Legal disclaimer
This report is based on the ESOC mission operations report for March 2010. Please see the copyright section of the legal disclaimer (bottom of this page) for terms of use.

Last Update: 1 September 2019
6-Feb-2023 08:58 UT

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