Media invitation from PPARC: The science of Mars Express and Beagle 2

ESA's Mars Express
ESA's Mars Express
9 April 2003

The countdown begins! With less than two months to go until the launch of Mars Express - the European Space Agency's mission to Mars - this is your opportunity to hear about the science behind the overall mission.

Programme

10.00 a.m. Registration and coffee
10.30 a.m. Science presentations
11.15 a.m. Q and A's
11.45 a.m. Interviews
12.15 p.m. Lunch
2.00 p.m. End of briefing

Members of the media are cordially invited to attend a pre-launch press briefing at the Royal Society in London on Wednesday 16 April.

Speakers

Welcome and introduction:
Professor Ian Halliday, Chief Executive Officer, Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council

Mars Express Overview:
Dr Agustin Chicarro, ESA Mars Express Project Scientist

Beagle 2:
Professor Colin Pillinger, Open University, Consortium Leader for Beagle 2

Closing remarks

Questions and Answers

The Principal Investigators and Co-Investigators for all of the instruments on the orbiter and the lander will be present and available to answer questions and conduct interviews.

Media Registration

To confirm your attendance please contact Gill Ormrod at the PPARC press office by Friday 11 April.

Tel: 01793 442012
Email: gill.ormrod@pparc.ac.uk

Interviews

Requests for interviews will be co-ordinated by Gill Ormrod. Advance notification of any specific interviews would be appreciated.

Resources

A comprehensive press pack, including images, will be available at the briefing. There will be models of Mars Express and Beagle 2 available for photographs.

The briefing will be followed by a buffet lunch.

Venue

A location map can be found at the Royal Society website. The nearest tube station is Piccadilly Circus.

Background

The Mars Express spacecraft
The Mars Express spacecraft in orbit around Mars

Mission Objectives

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 Orbiter will:

  • 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.

Five 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 lander
Beagle 2 lander

Beagle 2 will descend to the surface, entering the atmosphere at more than 20,000 km/h. 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).

UK Science Involvement

Whilst Mars Express is a pan European project, the UK plays a significant role in both the orbiter and the lander. The orbiter alone has 7 instruments on it of which UK scientists are involved in the development of 3:

  • ASPERA, the energetic Neutral Atoms Analyser (Mullard Space Science Laboratory and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory)
  • HRSC, the High Resolution Stereo Colour Imager (University College, London and the Open University)
  • MARSIS, the subsurface Sounding Radar/Altimeter (University College London, Queen Mary and Westfield College and University of Bristol)

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.

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