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Merry Christmas from Mars (Forwarded)

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Old December 25th 03, 03:58 PM
Andrew Yee
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Default Merry Christmas from Mars (Forwarded)

European Space Agency
Press Release No. 84-2003
Paris, France 25 December 2003

Merry Christmas from Mars

Mars Express enters orbit around the Red Planet

Contact awaited with Beagle 2 on the surface

This morning, after a journey lasting 205 days and covering 400 million
km, the European Mars Express space probe fired its main engine at 03:47
CET [0247 UTC] for a 37-minute burn in order to enter an orbit around
Mars. This firing gave the probe a boost so that it could match the
higher speed of the planet on its orbit around the Sun and be
captured by its gravity field, quite like climbing in a spinning
merry-go-round. This orbit insertion manoeuvre was a complete

This is a great achievement for Europe on its first attempt to send
a space probe into orbit around another planet.

At approximately the same time, the Beagle 2 lander, protected by a
thermal shield, entered the Martian atmosphere at high velocity and is
expected to have reached the surface at about 03:52 CET [0252 UTC].
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 tonight
at 23h40 CET [2240 UTC].

The tiny lander was released from the orbiter six days ago on a collision
course towards the planet. Before separation, its onboard computer was
programmed to operate the lander as from its arrival on the surface, by
late afternoon (Martian time). According to the schedule, the solar panels
must deploy to recharge the onboard batteries before sunset. The same
sequence also tells Beagle 2 to emit a signal in a specific frequency for
which the Jodrell Bank Telescope, UK, will be listening late tonight.
Further radio contacts are scheduled in the days to come.

In the course of the coming week, the orbit of Mars Express will be
gradually adjusted in order 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 km pericenter,
10000 apocenter, 86 deg inclination). From there, ESA's spacecraft
will perform detailed studies of the planet's surface, subsurface
structures and atmosphere. Commissioning of some of the onboard
scientific instruments will begin towards mid-January and the first
scientific data are expected later in the month.

"The arrival of Mars Express is a great success for Europe and for the
international science community. Now, we are just waiting for a signal
from Beagle 2 to make this Christmas the best we could hope for!"
said David Southwood, head of ESA's Science Directorate. "With
Mars Express, we have a very powerful observatory in orbit around
Mars and we look forward to receiving its first results. Its
instruments will be able to probe the planet from its upper
atmosphere down to a few kilometres below the surface, where
we hope to find critical clues concerning the conditions for life, in
particular traces of water. We expect this mission to give us a
better understanding of our neighbour planet, of its past and its
present, answering many questions for the science community
and probably raising an even greater number of fascinating new
ones. I hope we can see it as opening up a new era of European

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
* Beagle is GO for separation

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?

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


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