Mars Express Mission

Mars Express

Künstlerische Darstellung der europäischen Mars Express Raumsonde Quelle: ESA

Mars Express with deploged radar dipole antennas
Quelle: ESA

Mars Express is the first European planetary mission and the prototype for the so called “flexible (F) missions” within the framework of the long-term scientific program “Horizon 2000 plus” of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Prime contractor for Mars Express was the company EADS Astrium, France. Starsem in Russia was responsible for the rocket, while Alenia Aerospazo, Italy, was responsible for the satellite integration. Germany is decisive involved with the High Resolution Stereo Camera HRSC and the Mars Radio Science Experiment (MaRS). Additionally Germany is partly concerned with the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS).

The planet Mars is an object of fascination for hundreds of years. The possibility to explore the planet with spacecraft exists since 50 years. The first spacecraft to Mars were launched in the sixties; the first global investigation was performed by Mariner-9 in 1971. Most important missions were the Viking mission from 1976 to 1982 with two orbiters as well as two landers and Mars Global Survegor from 1998 to 2005.

Mars-Express facts

Launcher Soyuz – Fregat
Launch site
Baikonur, Kazakhstan
Start date
2nd June 2003
Arrival at Mars
23th December 2003

Orbit data

Inclination 87°
Height of pericenter
< 250 km
Height of apocenter
11500 km
Orbital period
6.5 hours
Nadir observation phase 0.5 – 1.0 hours
Communication phase 6.5 – 7.0 hours
Duration of the mission
planned  4 Earth years;
now 10 years in orbit

Scientific payload

The spacecraft mars Express contains seven scientific instruments. All measurement devices collect data about Mars’ surface and atmosphere. The orbit allows an approximately complete covering of Mars’ surface during the first mission period of about one Mars year which corresponds to approx one Earth year.

Instrument / Investigation Name Principal Investigator
ASPERA Energetic Neutral Atoms Analyser Mats
HRSC High Resolution Stereo Camera R. Jaumann (D)
MaRS Mars Express Orbiter Radio Science M. Pätzold (D)
MARSIS Subsurface Sounding Radar/Altimeter J. Plaut (USA)
PFS Atmospheric Fourier Spectrometer M. Ginranna (I)
SPICAM UV Atmospheric Spectrometer F. Montmessin (F)
OMEGA Visible and infrared mineralogical mapping spectrometer J.-P. Bibring (F)

Scientific aims of the orbiter

  • global high resolution photogeology (including topography, morphology, paleoclimatology, etc.) with a resolution of about 10 m
  • global spatial high resolution mineralogical mapping of the surface with a resolution of about 100 m
  • global atmospheric circulations and components of the atmosphere
  • underground structures down to 1 km depth
  • interaction between atmosphere and surface
  • interaction between atmosphere and interplanetary medium