‘Unique record’: ESA’s Mars Express as a sequel to the seventh mission
Europe’s Mars Express probe has transmitted signals to seven other probes on the Red Planet, setting a “new, unique record.” This was announced by the European Space Agency responsible for the probe, ESA. Among other things, the Mars Express served as a relay stage for NASA’s persistent rover, which has been on Mars since February 2021. Through communication, the European probe once again demonstrated the key role it plays in communicating with Mars. At the same time, it is one of the most cost-effective ESA missions.
Ten years on Mars with the red planet
Mars Express has been orbiting the Red Planet since Christmas 2003, and it’s now nearly 19 years on Earth. Since a Martian year is 687 Earth days, the probe completed its tenth Martian year only a few weeks ago. While she herself has been exploring the Red Planet extensively during this period, she has served as a relay for surface research instruments on several occasions in the past. They usually have much smaller antennas and depend on such intermediate stations. In each case, Mars Express was not primarily planned for this purpose, but tests have shown that the ESA probe can intervene if the orbits of international partners fail.
This work began just two months after his arrival on Mars. The European Space Agency (ESA) states that in early 2004, Mars Express sent commands to NASA’s small Spirit vehicle. It was the first ever collaboration of its kind. In 2008, this collaboration was further improved and signals were also transmitted between the Spirit twins and NASA. The ESA probe then also forwarded data between Earth, NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft, Curiosity and the Insight probe. They followed tests with the Chinese space agency last year, in which the Mars Express exchanged data between the craft and the Zurong rover.
James Godfrey of the European Space Agency explains that data transmission is an essential part of Mars exploration. One is proud that its probe has played this role in the data relay network between space agencies for many years. This network will also be important for future exploration of the planet, for example for the planned collection of soil samples that perseverance collects there diligently.
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