Brussels, 08 Jul 2003
As the US launches its second Mars exploration rover on its six month journey to the Red Planet, tests on the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft, due to reach its location on 25 December, have shown it to be in good condition.
Testing of the Mars Express began three weeks after its launch. Signals have been sent to each of the orbiter's seven instruments in order to activate them and ascertain their status. There was momentary concern when the onboard computer memory units did not seem to respond as expected, but this problem has now been resolved.
'Overall, the spacecraft is in good shape,' said Mars Express project manager, Rudolf Schmidt. 'We are simply getting to know its personality.'
Unfortunately an interconnection problem between the solar arrays and the power conditioning unit on board Mars Express has been discovered, meaning that only 70 per cent of the energy generated is available for the satellite and its payload. This is not expected to have an impact on the mission, although satellite payload operations may at some point have to be reviewed.
Meanwhile the US Mars Rover, known as Opportunity, was launched on 8 July. The spacecraft is designed to explore Mars for three months. Opportunity follows another US rover, Spirit, launched on 10 June, which itself is eight days behind Europe's Mars Express, carrying the Beagle 2 lander. Also in the race is the Japanese probe Nozomi.
In recent days, astronomers have also observed a huge dust storm engulfing one third of the Red Planet. The storm has seen winds carrying dust into the atmosphere for several thousand kilometres. Experts believe, however, that the storm is likely to subside over the next few weeks.
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