Mars Express is a space exploration mission being conducted by the European Space Agency (ESA). TheMars Express mission is exploring the planet Mars, and is the first planetary mission attempted by the agency. “Express” originally referred to the speed and efficiency with which the spacecraft was designed and built. However “Express” also describes the spacecraft’s relatively short interplanetary voyage, a result of being launched when the orbits of Earth and Mars brought them closer than they had been in about 60,000 years.
Mars Express consists of two parts, the Mars Express Orbiter and the Beagle 2, a lander designed to perform exobiology and geochemistry research. Although the lander failed to land safely on the Martian surface, the orbiter has been successfully performing scientific measurements since early 2004, namely, high-resolution imaging and mineralogical mapping of the surface, radar sounding of the subsurface structure down to the permafrost, precise determination of the atmospheric circulation and composition, and study of the interaction of the atmosphere with the interplanetary medium.
Due to the valuable science return and the highly flexible mission profile, Mars Express has been granted five mission extensions, the latest until 2014.
Some of the instruments on the orbiter, including the camera systems and some spectrometers, reuse designs from the failed launch of the Russian Mars 96 mission in 1996 (European countries had provided much of the instrumentation and financing for that unsuccessful mission).
- Visible and Infrared Mineralogical Mapping Spectrometer (OMEGA) – Determines mineral composition of the surface up to 100 m resolution. Is mounted inside pointing out the top face. Instrument mass: 28.6 kg
- Ultraviolet and Infrared Atmospheric Spectrometer (SPICAM) – Assesses elemental composition of the atmosphere. Is mounted inside pointing out the top face. Instrument mass: 4.7 kg
- Sub-Surface Sounding Radar Altimeter (MARSIS) – A radar altimeter used to assess composition of sub-surface aimed at search for frozen water. Is mounted in the body and is nadir pointing, and also incorporates the two 20 m antennas. Instrument mass: 13.7 kg
- Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) – Makes observations of atmospheric temperature and pressure (observations suspended in September 2005). Is mounted inside pointing out the top face and is currently working. Instrument mass: 30.8 kg
- Analyzer of Space Plasmas and Energetic Atoms (ASPERA) – Investigates interactions between upper atmosphere and solar wind. Is mounted on the top face. Instrument mass: 7.9 kg
- High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) – Produces color images with up to 2 m resolution. Is mounted inside the spacecraft body, aimed through the top face of the spacecraft, which is nadir pointing during Mars operations. Instrument mass: 20.4 kg
- Mars Express Lander Communications (MELACOM) – Allows Mars Express to act as a communication relay for landers on the Martian surface. (Has been tested with Mars Exploration Rovers, and was used to support the landing of NASA’s Phoenix mission)
- Mars Radio Science Experiment (MaRS) – Uses radio signals to investigate atmosphere, surface, subsurface, gravity and solar corona density during solar conjunctions. It uses the communications subsystem itself.
- A small camera to monitor the lander ejection, VMC
Other external useful resources:
sources: ESA, Wikipedia