Mars Express was successfully launched on June 2, 2003 from Baikonur with a Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket (compatible with a Delta II). It consists of an orbiter and the lander "Beagle 2." Launch weight of the spacecraft was 1042 kg, or little more than 1 metric ton.
After an interplanetary cruise of more than 6 months, the spacecraft arrived in the vicinity of Mars in December 2003. The lander Beagle 2 was successfully released from the Mars Express mother craft on December 19. The Mars Express orbiter fired its main engines and on December 25, 2003, at about 2:45 UT, was successfully inserted into Martian orbit, an initial capture orbit 250 x 150,000 km above Martian surface.
Minutes later, at about 2:47 UT, the Beagle 2 lander entered the atmosphere of Mars at about 20,000 km/hr in attempt to touch down in direct approach, in the Martian region Isidis Planitia, 270 W and 10.6 N. Decelerated by atmospheric friction and paracutes, it was intended to land with inflated airbags (similar to Mars Pathfinder in 1996), reaching the Martian surface at 2:54 UT. Unfortunately, it failed to immediately broadcast messages, and subsequent contact attempts both by Earth-based radio telescopes, and the Mars Odyssey orbiter as well as the Mars Express orbiter were unsuccessful, and the lander spacecraft had to be given lost.
Beagle 2 should have operated on the Martian surface for about 180 days after landing. It had a digging arm to take soil samples for investigation with various instruments.
The Mars Express orbiter first entered an initial capture orbit 250 km x 150,000 km above Martian surface and inclined about 25deg. This orbit was adjusted by four subsequent main engine burnings to a 259 km x 11,560 km near polar (86 degree inclination) orbit with a period of 7.5 hours. After 440 days the apoapsis was lowered to 10,107 km, and the periapsis raised to 298 km with an orbital period of 6.7 hours. Aerobraking could be used to modify the orbit if there were any problems with the main engine. Nominal mission duration was planned to be 1 martian year (687 Earth days), but it is still operating in early 2013, for over 9 years now. It has also served as communications relay for later lander missions including MER Spirit and Opportunity, Phoenix, and MSL Curiosity.
The first high-resolution image from Mars Express in its orbit shows the Valles Marineris huge canyon on Mars. First results from Mars Express' instruments were quite spectacular and include the detection of more evidence of water ice.
Mars Express in Orbit -- Another View
Beagle-2 Lander -- Separation of Lander
Mars Express Launch
Earth and Moon as seen from 8 million km
distant Mars Express spacecraft on July 3, 2003.
[ESA Press Release (ESA PR 44-2003)]
Beagle 2 Landing site map
Beagle 2 Landing site in Isidis Planitia
Valles Marineris as shown on the first High Resolution Stereo Camera image by Mars Express (taken Jan 14, 2004)
Valles Marineris, full HRSC image (taken Jan 14, 2004)
Discovering Water Ice near the South Polar Cap with OMEGA (data taken Jan 18, 2004)
Distribution of CO2 and CO, first data of the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) instrument, a high-resolution spectrometer. The distribution differs for the Northern and Southern hemisphere of Mars.
Reull Vallis taken with HRSC on Jan 15
Region south of Valles Marineris (15S, 37W) taken with HRSC on Jan 14 during orbit 18.
A mesa terrain in Valles Marineris located 5N, 37W. HRSC, Jan 14 during orbit 18.
Another Mesa on Mars, taken with the HRSC on Jan 14 during orbit 18. The large crater is 7.6 km in diameter.
.. more to come ..
Definite Version: November 3, 2005
Last Modification: February 27, 2013