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N° 16–2001: Europe goes to Mars - preparations are well under way

10 April 2001

If you live in Europe, there's almost certainly a research institute or industrial company near you that is contributing materials or expertise to Mars Express, Europe's first mission to the Red Planet.

Under the umbrella of the European Space Agency, at least 25 companies from 15 European countries are building hardware or software for the spacecraft, or otherwise contributing their expertise; and more than 200 scientists from research institutes in all ESA member states and beyond are contributing towards the scientific payload. "The Mars Express project is providing about 1000 jobs throughout Europe," estimates Rudi Schmidt, Mars Express Project Manager at ESTEC, the European Space Agency's technical centre in the Netherlands.

Preparations are well under way and on schedule for a May/June 2003 launch sending the spacecraft on its six-month voyage. The structure is taking shape under the guidance of the prime contractor Astrium, Toulouse (France), and the scientific teams are on target with scientific instrument development.

Water and life

ESA's Mars Express mission consists of an orbiter, carrying seven scientific experiments, and a lander, Beagle 2. The two vehicles will play key roles in an international Mars exploration programme spanning the next two decades.

The instruments on board the orbiter will provide remote sensing of the atmosphere, the surface and up to 5km below the surface, to a degree of accuracy never before achieved. The information gleaned will help answer many questions outstanding about Mars. One concerns the fate of water that once flowed freely on the planet’s surface; another is whether life ever evolved on Mars.

Beagle-2 will be the first lander since NASA’s two Viking probes in the 1970s to look specifically for evidence of past or present life on Mars. No other Mars probe planned so far is making exobiology so central to its mission.

When the spacecraft arrives at the Red Planet around Christmas 2003, the Mars Express orbiter will jettison Beagle 2 and then move into a near-polar orbit from which it will observe the whole planet over the next Martian year (equivalent to two Earth years). The lander will make its own way to a carefully selected site on Isidis Planitia, a plain just north of the equator near where the ancient, cratered southern highlands meet the younger, smooth northern lowlands. Beagle 2 will complete its mission in about six months.

The Mars Express orbiter instruments will:

(see below for list of full instrument names, acronyms and Principal Investigators)

The Beagle 2 lander will:

Mars Express will provide unique investigations that will contribute to an understanding of many of the unknowns about Mars. Here are a few:

Over the next few months, the European Space Agency in collaboration with national organisations will be holding press conferences about Mars Express at different locations across Europe. Further information will follow as soon as it is available. In the meantime, background information and regular updates on the progress of the project are available at ESA's Mars Express website, at http://sci.esa.int/marsexpress

Instrument and Principal Investigator

ASPERA (Energetic Neutral Atoms Analyser) Rickard Lundin, Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Kiruna, Sweden (presently on sabbatical in Toulouse). Contact: Dr Stas Barabash (Co-PI), Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Box 812 98128, Kiruna, Sweden, tel. +46-980-79122, Fax: +46-980-79050, e-mail: stas@irf.se

BEAGLE-2 (Geochemical Lander) Colin Pillinger, Open University, Milton Keynes, UK, tel. +44 1908 652119, fax.+44 1908 655910, e-mail: psri@open.ac.uk HRSC (High/Super Resolution Stereo Camera), Gerhard Neukum, DLR, Institut für Planetenerkundung, Berlin, Germany, tel. +49 30 67055 300, fax. +49 30 67055 303, e-mail: gerhard.neukum@dlr.de

MaRS (Radio Science Experiment), Martin Pätzold, University of Cologne, Germany, tel. +49 221 4703385, fax. +49 221 4705198, e-mail: paetzold@geo.uni-koeln.de

MARSIS (Subsurface Sounding Radar/Altimeter), Giovanni Picardi, University of Rome, Italy, tel. +39 06 44585455, fax. +39 06 4873300, e-mail: picar@infocom.ing.uniroma1.it

OMEGA (IR Mineralogical Mapping Spectrometer), Jean-Pierre Bibring, Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale, Orsay, France, tel. +33 1 69858686, fax. +33 1 69858675, e-mail: bibring@ias.u-psud.fr

PFS (Planetary Fourier Spectrometer), Vittorio Formisano, Istituto Fisica Spazio Interplanetario, Rome, Italy, tel. +39 6 49934362, fax. +39 6 49934383, e-mail: formisan@nike.ifsi.rm.cnr.it

SPICAM (UV and IR Atmospheric Spectrometer), Jean-Loup Bertaux, Service d'Aéronomie, Verrières-le-Buisson, France, tel. +33 1 64474251, fax. +33 1 6920299, e-mail: jean-loup.bertaux@aerov.jussieu.fr. Additional contact: Christian Muller, Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy. B.USOC earth observations coordination, Avenue Circulaire, 3, B-1180 Brussels, Belgium, tel. +32-2-3730372, fax: +32-2-3748423, e- mail: Christian.Muller@oma.be


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