Brussels, 16 Jan 2004
European Space Agency (ESA) scientists at mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, are examining the first images and data to be sent back from the Mars Express orbiter.
The spacecraft has one final manoeuvre to make on 28 January before it reaches its final orbit. Then it will begin its two year study of the atmosphere and geology of the Red Planet.
ESA flight operations director Mike McKay described seeing the spacecraft's first images of Mars to the New Scientist: 'They blew me away,' he said.
Six of the seven onboard instruments have been switched on and display no signs of faults: 'Mars Express is alive and performing flawlessly,' added Dr McKay.
The spacecraft will image the entire surface of the planet, and its highly elliptical orbit, ranging from 260 to 11,500 kilometres from the surface, will allow it to do so in unprecedented detail. It will also closely scan the 80 by 50 kilometre landing area of Beagle 2, looking out for its distinctive white airbags.
The seventh instrument is a ground penetrating radar, which will be used to probe the top five kilometres of the planet. This will be the first time that such technology has been used on another planet.
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