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Mars Express releases Beagle 2 (Forwarded)

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Old December 19th 03, 05:59 PM
Andrew Yee
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Default Mars Express releases Beagle 2 (Forwarded)

European Space Agency
Press Release No. 83-2003
Paris, France 19 December 2003

Mars Express releases Beagle 2

This morning, ESA's Mars Express flawlessly released the Beagle 2 lander that it
has been carrying since its launch on 2 June this year. Beagle 2 is now on its
journey towards the surface of Mars, where it is expected to land early in the
morning of 25 December. Mars Express, Europe's first mission to Mars, has passed
another challenging milestone on its way towards its final destination.

At 9:31 CET [0831 UTC], the crucial sequence started to separate the Beagle 2
lander from Mars Express. As data from Mars Express confirm, the pyrotechnic
device was fired to slowly release a loaded spring, which gently pushed Beagle 2
away from the mother spacecraft. An image from the onboard visual monitoring
camera (VMC) showing the lander drifting away is expected to be available later

Since the Beagle 2 lander has no propulsion system of its own, it had to be put
on the correct course for its descent before it was released. For this reason,
on 16 December the trajectory of the whole Mars Express spacecraft had to be
adjusted to ensure that Beagle 2 would be on course to enter the atmosphere of
Mars. This manoeuvre, called "retargeting" was critical: if the entry angle is
too steep, the lander could overheat and burn up in the atmosphere; if the angle
is too shallow, the lander might skim like a pebble on the surface of a lake and
miss its target.

This fine targeting and today's release were crucial manoeuvres for which ESA's
Ground Control Team at ESOC (European Space Operations Centre) had trained over
the past several months. The next major milestone for Mars Express will be the
manoeuvre to enter into orbit around Mars. This will happen at 2:52 CET [0152
UTC] on Christmas morning, when Beagle 2 is expected to land on the surface of Mars.

"Good teamwork by everybody -- ESA, industry and the Beagle 2 team -- has got
one more critical step accomplished. Mars, here comes Europe!" said David
Southwood, ESA Director of Science.

For further information, please contact:

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

Related links

* Europe goes to Mars
* Web streaming
* Mars Express mission facts
* Beagle 2 lander homepage

Related articles

* Christmas on Mars: be there with ESA
* Mars is just around the corner
* Planet Mars from 5.5 million kilometres
* 'Europe lands on Mars' -- Media event at ESA/ESOC
* Crucial moments on the way to Mars
* Are you ready for Mars?

Farewell, Beagle 2

The bright spot on the left-hand side of this picture is the back side of Beagle
2, slowly drifting away from Mars Express. This image, taken this morning at
9:33 CET [0833 UTC], shows the lander when it was about 20 metres away from the
mother spacecraft, on its way to Mars.


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