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Europe Goes To Mars

Mars Express will place a spacecraft in orbit about Mars, while dropping a small hard lander down onto Mars
London - Apr 17, 2003
Mars Express, the European Space Agency's mission to Mars, is due to launch from Baikonur in Kazakstan in June 2003 (launch window is 1st to 23rd June). This week scientists involved in both the orbiter and lander will meet together in London to finalise and co-ordinate scientific operations between these two elements of the mission - a community of European scientists linked by their mutual desire to reveal the secrets of the mysterious Red Planet.

Professor Ian Halliday, Chief Executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) said, "Mars has always fascinated us. The world has continually postulated on the Red Planet harbouring life and this awesome mission, in which the UK has played such a significant role, will answer this age-old question. A positive result would be the vital first step in answering an even more fundamental question: are we alone in the universe?"

By mapping the Martian surface and sub surface, studying the planet's atmosphere and ionosphere from orbit and by conducting observations and experiments on the surface using the Beagle 2 lander, the spacecraft will attempt to answer this profound question whilst revealing a wealth of knowledge about the Red Planet.

UK scientists, funded by PPARC, play key roles in the orbiter and lander. Of the seven instruments on the orbiter UK scientists are involved in three.

  • The Mullard Space Science Laboratory and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory are involved with ASPERA, the energetic Neutral Atoms Analyser, which will look at how the solar wind erodes the Martian atmosphere to identify the constituent atoms of water.
  • University College, London and the Open University are involved with HRSC, the High Resolution Stereo Colour Imager, which will image the entire planet in full colour.
  • University College London, Queen Mary University of London and University of Bristol are involved with MARSIS, the subsurface Sounding Radar/Altimeter, which will search for water beneath the surface crust of Mars.

The UK plays the lead role in the development of Beagle 2, the lander element. Consortium leader Professor Colin Pillinger of the Open University heads up the team, which also involves scientists from the University of Leicester and Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

The Open University, with additional funding from the Wellcome Trust, is responsible for the key instrument, the gas analysis package including the mass spectrometer.

Professor Colin Pillinger, Principal Investigator for the Beagle 2 lander said: "It is exciting to think that Europe's first adventure to a planet will involve both orbiter and lander science. With Beagle 2 we aim to provide ground truth for one site that will help maximise the return from the orbiter investigations."

Dr Agustin Chicarro, ESA's Mars Express Project Scientist said: "Mars Express is the first European planetary mission, focusing on mapping of subsurface groundwater and the identification of life signature. It will provide an unprecedented global view of the planet in terms of surface, subsurface, atmosphere and environment investigation."

Recent space missions have revealed a wealth of knowledge about Mars but have also raised many questions about the creation and evolution of the Martian landscape.

Mars Express will help to answer these questions by mapping the Martian sub-surface, surface, atmosphere and ionosphere from orbit and by conducting observations and experiments on the surface.

    The Goals Of Mars Express Orbiter include
  • Image the entire surface at high resolution and selected areas at super resolution
  • Produce a map of the mineral composition of the surface at 100 m resolution
  • Map the composition of the atmosphere and determine its global circulation
  • Determine the structure of the sub-surface to a depth of a few kilometres
  • Determine the effect of the atmosphere on the surface
  • Determine the interaction of the atmosphere with the solar wind The Beagle 2 lander will:
  • Determine the geology and the mineral and chemical composition of the landing site
  • Search for life signatures (exobiology)
  • Study the weather and climate

Launch and flight Mars Express will be launched by a Soyuz-Fregat launcher from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in June 2003. At this time the position of the two planets make for the shortest possible route, a condition that occurs once every twenty-six months. It will take the spacecraft six months to reach the Red Planet.

Six days before arrival in December 2003 Mars Express will eject the Beagle 2 lander, which will make its way to the correct landing site on the surface. Mars Express will remain in orbit around Mars for one Martian year (687 Earth Days).

During this time, the point of orbit closest to Mars will move around to give the scientific instruments coverage of the entire Martian surface at all kinds of viewing angles.

Beagle entry, descent and landing Beagle 2 will descend to the surface, entering the atmosphere at more than Mach 31.5 (31.5 times the velocity of sound - just over 700 mph). When its speed has fallen to 1600 km/h, parachutes will deploy to slow it further.

Finally large gas-filled bags will inflate to protect it as it bounces to a halt on the landing site. Once still its solar panels will open out and the cameras will start to take in the view.

After a couple of days the detailed rock and soil analyses will begin carried out by the instruments mounted on the Position Adjustable Workbench (PAW) which will also deliver samples to the gas analysis package inside the lander for analyses to determine if there is evidence of remnants of life.

Related Links
Mars Express
Beagle 2
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Mars Express Leaves For Baikonur
Paris - Mar 20, 2003
Mars Express, the first European spacecraft to visit the planet Mars, has completed its tests at Toulouse, France. After six months extensive thermal environmental, mechanical and electric tests, the spacecraft with the Beagle 2 lander will leave for Baikonur, Kazakhstan on 19 March 2003 onboard an Antonov 124 aircraft. It will be launched early June 2003 onboard a Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket.



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