28. October 2019
Mars Express mission

Mars Express completes 20,000 orbits around the Red Planet

Video animation: Mars Express completes 20,000 orbits
Video 1/1, Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/HRSC Science Team

Mars Express, the European Space Agency's (ESA) first planetary mission, is a true marathon runner among spacecraft. Launched on 2 June 2003, the spacecraft arrived at Mars during the night of 25 December that same year. On 26 October 2019, this spacecraft completed its twenty-thousandth orbit around Mars. Mars Express is in good company in Martian orbit: NASA’s Mars 2001 Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have also been studying the Red Planet for more than 10 years. Odyssey has been in orbit since 2001 and Reconnaissance Orbiter since March 2006.

The High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) developed and built by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) in collaboration with German industry, has been photographing the planet's surface on board Mars Express since January 2004 – at resolutions of up to 10 metres per pixel, in colour and in three dimensions. This is the first global topographic collection of image data for a planet other than Earth. In total, the resistant stereo scanner has recorded 363 gigabytes of raw data that have been pre-processed on Earth to produce 5.5 gigabytes of scientifically useful image data. The HRSC has recorded 75 percent of the planet’s approximately 150-million-square-kilometre surface at image resolutions of 10 to 20 metres per pixel.

The topographic image maps generated using the HRSC are of great scientific benefit. Digital HRSC terrain models are also used when selecting landing sites, such as for NASA's InSight geophysical observatory or the ExoMars (ESA, due to launch in 2020), Curiosity and Mars 2020 (NASA) rovers.

The orbit of Mars Express is highly elliptical, passing from pole to pole and taking the spacecraft to distances between 240 kilometres to over 10,000 kilometres from the Martian surface. The 'anniversary' of the twenty-thousandth orbit gave researchers in the HRSC experiment team, led by Ralf Jaumann at the DLR Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin, the opportunity to visit Mars during a simulated overflight of various 'chaotic areas', outflow channels and craters to the east of the Valles Marineris canyon, just north of the equator.

Contact
  • Ulrich Köhler
    Public relations coordinator
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Institute of Planetary Research
    Telephone: +49 30 67055-215
    Fax: +49 30 67055-402
    Rutherfordstraße 2
    12489  Berlin
    Contact
  • Elke Heinemann
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Public Affairs and Communications
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-2867
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249
     
    Contact
  • Prof.Dr. Ralf Jaumann
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Institute of Planetary Research
    Planetary Geology
    Telephone: +49 30 67055-400
    Fax: +49 30 67055-402
    Rutherfordstraße 2
    12489  Berlin
    Contact
Images on this topic
  • Aurorae Chaos

    Aurorae Chaos in colour

    Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO  |  Download
    The transition zone between the plateaus of the Martian highlands in Margaritifer Terra and the chaotic areas in the Aurorae Chaos depression have been shaped by radical geological processes. Water stored in cavities beneath the surface as underground ice thawed due to heating and escaped onto the surface. The resulting cavities collapsed, and much of the rock debris was carried away by the water as a sediment load. In the surrounding area, individual table mountains and buttes remained as remnants of the original plateau, forming the Aurorae Chaos landscape as it appears today. The transition zone to the highlands features fissures and grabens formed due to tectonic tensions in the Martian crust. In addition, smaller chaos regions can be made out to the south of the escarpment (left in the image).      
  • Perspective view of the transition zone between Margaritifer Terra and Aurorae Chaos

    Perspective view of the transition zone between Margaritifer Terra and Aurorae Chaos

    Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO  |  Download
    At the transition between the Margaritifer Terra highland region and the Aurorae Chaos depression, the plain of the southern highlands is heavily furrowed and characterised by grabens, valleys, hollows and shattered landscape. The crust was torn apart by tensile tectonic forces, while underground ice was probably stored in cavities directly beneath the surface. This thawed due to a heat source – rising magma from a volcano or the heat generated by a nearby asteroid impact – and rose to the surface before flowing north. The resulting cavities collapsed, leaving a landscape that is described as ‘chaotic terrain’ by planetary geologists.
  • An anaglyph image of the western part of Aurorae Chaos

    Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.  |  Download
    Anaglyph images can be created using the four stereo channels and nadir channel of the HRSC camera system. Using red-blue/cyan or red-green glasses, they allow realistic, three-dimensional views of the landscape. The differences in elevations in this region are immense. The surrounding highlands break up abruptly above 3000 metres into the basin of Aurorae Chaos. These isolated mountain peaks and buttes of the 'chaotic region' also distinctly emerge in the south (left). But even subtle topographic differences can be identified when viewed with anaglyph glasses; for example the rising alluvial fan deposits on the slopes in the right half of the image, tectonic fault structures in a large block above the centre of the image and an unusual depression on the bottom right of the image edge, whose origin is unknown.
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