Mars Express is equipped with a webcam – the Visual Monitoring Camera – that returns regular snapshots of the planet from orbit. Originally designed for capturing the separation of the Beagle-2 lander, the camera was later ‘upgraded’ to a scientific instrument, providing context views of the entire planet and its atmospheric features. To date it has returned over 35 000 images; they are shared automatically to the camera’s Twitter account and posted on a dedicated Flickr channel.
Taking global images of Mars in one snapshot is only possible by two Mars spacecraft: through the Visual Monitoring Camera onboard ESA’s Mars Express and the Mars Colour Camera on India’s Mangalyaan orbiter – depending on how close they are to the planet. NASA’s Mars Odyssey also provides daily global views, combined of multiple image segments.
ESA has demonstrated expertise in studying Mars from orbit, now we are looking to secure a safe landing, to rove across the surface and to drill underground to search for evidence of life. Our orbiters are already in place to provide data relay services for surface missions. The next logical step is to bring samples back to Earth, to provide access to Mars for scientists globally, and to better prepare for future human exploration of the Red Planet.
This set of infographics highlight’s ESA’s contribution to Mars exploration as we ramp up to the launch of our second ExoMars mission, and look beyond to completing a Mars Sample Return mission.