Merry Christmas from Mars

Mars Express orbiter's main engine is firing for Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI).
25 December 2003

At 03:47 CET on 25 December, ESA's Mars Express orbiter fired its main engine for a 37-minute burn in order to enter orbit around Mars. This orbit insertion manoeuvre was a complete success.

At about the same time, the Beagle 2 lander, protected by a thermal shield, entered the Martian atmosphere and is expected to have reached the surface at about 03:52 CET.

However, the first attempt to communicate with Beagle 2, three hours after landing, via NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter, did not establish radio contact. The next contact opportunity will be at 23:40 CET on 25 December.

The lander was released from the orbiter six days earlier on a collision course towards the planet. Before separation, its on-board computer was programmed to operate the lander on its arrival at the surface, by late afternoon (Martian time).

According to the schedule, the solar panels must deploy to recharge the on-board batteries before sunset. The same sequence also tells Beagle 2 to emit a signal at a specific frequency for which the Jodrell Bank Telescope, UK, will be listening later on 25 December. Further radio contacts are scheduled in the days to come.

In the coming week, the orbit of Mars Express will be adjusted to prepare for its scientific mission. Mars Express is currently several thousand kilometres away from Mars, in a very elongated equatorial orbit. On 30 December, ESA's ground control team will send commands to fire the spacecraft's engines and place it in a polar, less-elongated orbit (about 300 kilometres by 10 000 kilometres).

Commissioning of some of the on-board scientific instruments will begin towards mid-January and the first scientific data are expected later in the month.

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