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The Mars Express was the main Mars space probe project for the European space agency. The mission was launched June 2, 2003 and arrived at Mars December 2003. The mission was called Mars Express because it was to be built faster than any other Mars to mission. The mission craft was called Beagle 2 and was named after the famous ship on which Darwin did his expeditions. The craft weighs over 1120 kg including 113 kg orbiter payload and 60 kg lander. The mission was to gather data on Mars from orbit and on the surface.
The Mars Express mission was sent into space on a Soyuz launch system in June 2003 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The mission had a life of 687 Earth days and a journey of over 10,000 kilometers lasting six months to get to its destination. The plan was for the orbiter and lander to separate six days before arrival with the orbiter falling into orbit and the lander, Beagle 2 landing on the surface of mars. While the orbiter successfully entered orbit the lander was not functioning after landing and was unable to communicate with the orbiter or Earth. The orbiter remained operational and even went on to have its mission expanded beyond the original phase.
The lander was originally supposed to explore the northern plains of Mars. It was considered that the area did not have enough rock to affect the lander upon landing however; further investigation found that the instruments were damaged upon landing. The causes why are still a matter of debate. The Mars express is important to space exploration because it shows two important trends in space exploration. The first is the increase of nations and space organizations sending probes to other celestial bodies this is important because it demonstrates the increasing technological and financial capabilities of space agencies beyond the United States and Russia to complete extraterrestrial missions. The second major trend for now is increased cooperation between space agencies. Mars Express was born of cooperation between the European Space Agency and the Russian Space Agency.
We have written many articles about Mars Express for Universe Today. Here’s an article about Mars Express Finding Rusty Evidence to Red Planet’s Wet Past, and here’s an article about Mars Express finding auroras on Mars.
We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about the Missions to Mars. Listen here, Episode 93: Missions to Mars, Part 2.
European Space Agency: Mars Express