Mars is just around the corner

The Mars Express spacecraft
The Mars Express spacecraft in orbit around Mars
9 December 2003

ESA PR 81-2003. After a journey of 400 million km, ESA's Mars Express is now approaching its final destination. On 19 December, the spacecraft is scheduled to release the Beagle 2 lander it has been carrying since its launch on 2 June.

At 9:31 CET, ESA's ground control team at Darmstadt (Germany) will send the command for the Beagle 2 lander to separate from Mars Express. A pyrotechnic device will be fired to slowly release a loaded spring, which will gently push Beagle 2 away from the mother spacecraft.

Data on the spacecraft's position and speed will be used by mission engineers to assess whether the lander was successfully released. In addition, the onboard Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) should provide an image showing the lander slowly moving away. The image is expected to be available mid-afternoon.

Artist's impression of the Beagle 2
Artist's impression of the Beagle 2

Beagle 2 will then continue its journey towards the surface of Mars, where it is expected to land on 25 December, early in the morning. At the same time, the Mars Express orbiter should be manoeuvring to enter into orbit around Mars.

In view of the complexity of this operation, the Mars Express control team has been trained to deal with the eventuality that separation might not be achieved at the first attempt. If that did turn out to be the case, there is a series of procedures that has already been set up and tested for completing the manoeuvre successfully within the subsequent 40 hours.

The "separation" event can be followed live at ESA/ESOC on Friday 19 December from 8:30 to 15:00. A videoconference will link the control centre at Darmstadt with ESA Headquarters in Paris (F), and ESA/ESRIN at Frascati (I). Media wishing to attend are asked to complete the attached reply form and fax it to the Communication Office at the establishment of their choice.

Highlights of this event will be streamed over the Internet at http://mars.esa.int at the following times:

09:09 - 09:32 CET
11:25 - 11.47 CET
12:00 - 12:10 CET

As well as live streaming of key events, the Mars Express site will have daily news, features, images, videos and more.

For further information, please contact:

ESA Media Relations Service
Tel: +33(0)1.53.69.7155
Fax: +33(0)1.53.69.7690

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