Mars Express mission

Mars Express - Insight into the history of the Martian climate

Mars Express in orbit around Mars
Mars Express in orbit around Mars
Image 1/3, Credit: ESA/Medialab

Mars Express in orbit around Mars

Artist's impression of the European spacecraft Mars Express in orbit around Mars (2003).

The striking landscape of Hydraotes Chaos on Mars
The striking landscape of Hydraotes Chaos on Mars
Image 2/3, Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

The striking landscape of Hydraotes Chaos on Mars

The first HRSC image, which was unveiled to the public in January 2004, showed the Hydraotes Chaos region - a labyrinth of mesas created by the eroding effect of masses of water draining away and ground collapsing to form great voids. Since then, the Mars Express probe has orbited Mars about 19,000 times at different altitudes. As a result, global coverage has seen constant improvement, with image resolutions of down to 12 metres per pixel. The image here shows a view recently acquired by HRSC from the equator looking north over the striking landscape of Hydraotes Chaos with its more than 2000-metre-high table-mountain outliers in the foreground. The outflow channels of Simud Valles (left) and Tiu Valles (right), which are up to 80 kilometres wide and more than 1000 kilometres long, extend as far as the horizon.
Landslides and delta-shaped alluvial fans
Image 3/3, Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

Landslides and delta-shaped alluvial fans

In the north, the Aurorae Chaos region is bound by a wall more than 3000 metres high. Along this steep – and unstable in places – surface feature, large rock masses break loose repeatedly, forming huge alluvial fan deposits. Semicircular indentations are left behind in the terrain edge. The landslides were most likely 'lubricated' by water, which existed as ice within hollow spaces under the plateau and suddenly melted. This would explain the alluvial fans extending into the Aurorae basin as well as the occasional flow structures.

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express mission was launched by a Soyuz/Fregat rocket on 2 June 2003 at 19:45 Central European Summer Time from the Russian space centre at Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The mission supplies Scientists with important new data about the geology, mineralogy and atmosphere of Mars. The search for traces of earlier Mars life, one of the most ambitious goals of the project, provides a large challenge for the scientists.

DLR is making important contributions to Mars Express. The High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) was developed by DLR at the Institut für Planetenforschung (Institute for Planetary Research) in Berlin. The camera is mapping Mars in three dimensions in the highest-ever resolution.

Also, DLR Berlin was key in helping develop the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) instrument. Three further experiments - MaRS, MARSIS and ASPERA - are financed by the DLR Space Agency.



Launch:2 June 2003, 19.45 CEST
Arrival in Mars orbit:25 December 2003, 04.00 CET
Launch site:Baikonur, Kasachstan
Ground stations:Perth (Australia), Kourou (French Guiana)
Operational times:6.5 - 7 hours per day
Mission Control:European Space Operations Center (ESOC), Darmstadt
Nominal mission:1 Mars year (ca. 2 Earth years ~ 687 days); because of its enormous scientific yield, ESA has extended the Mars Express mission several times, with the most recent extension lasting until the end of 2020.
Orbit type:Ellipse, Final orbit: 250 km (closest approach to Mars) x 11.583 km (furthest point from Mars); Inclination 87 degrees; Orbit period 7.5 hours



Launch mass:1042 kg (427 kg fuel)
Scientific payload:Orbiter 116 kg, Lander 60 kg
Dimensions:Orbiter 1.5 m x 1.8 m x 1.4 m; Solar arm mit 12 m width, Surface area 11.42 sq metres
Energy supply:Orbiter: Solar arm: Si-cells, 660W with 1.5 AE; Energy storage 3 Li-Ion batteries, Overall capacity 64.8 Ah; Power supply 28 V; Maximum performance 450 W
Data communication::X-band (7,1 GHz) and S-band (2,1 GHz). Communication: omnidirectional low-gain antenna (LGA), 4 m; directional high-gain antenna (HGA), 1.8 m; 2 di-pole antennas, both 20 m
Propulsion: 8 engines for orbit corrections, each can thrust 10 Newtons; 1 master engine for braking in Mars orbit, thrust 400 Newton; stabilisers

Instruments Orbiter

HRSC (High-Resolution Stereoscopic Camera)German-led project: Study of the atmosphere, surface and gravitation
MaRS (Mars Radio Science Experiment)German-led project: Study of the atmosphere, surface and gravitation
PFS (Planetary Fourier Spectrometer)Italian-led project; German participation: Infrared spectrometer for the investigation of the atmosphere
ASPERA (Analyser of Space Plasmas and Energetic Atoms)Swedish-led project: Analysis of the reciprocal effect of the Mars atmosphere with the interplanetary medium
MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding)Italian-led project: Investigation of the Martian soil depth and also the upper atmosphere
OMEGA (Observatoire pour la Minéralogie, l’Eau, les Glaces et l’Activité)French-led project; developed for the Mars-96 mission: Infrared spectrometer for the investigation of the surface composition
SPICAM (Spectroscopic Investigation of the Atmosphere of Mars)developed for the Rosetta mission: Ultraviolet spectrometer for the investigation of the atmosphere

  • Elke Heinemann
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Public Affairs and Communications
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-2867
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249

  • Prof.Dr. Ralf Jaumann
    Freie Universität Berlin
    Institute of Geological Sciences
    Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing
    Telephone: +49-172-2355864
    Malteserstr. 74-100
    12249 Berlin
  • 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
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