For 19 years, the Mars Express spacecraft has orbited the Red Planet, providing breathtaking views and valuable information about Mars. The hard-working orbiter not only relayed its own data back to Earth, but also provided a line of communication between other Mars missions and ground control.
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express recently set a new record by relaying data for a total of seven different missions to the surface of Mars, a significant feat to help scientists paint a full picture of the planet’s history, the space agency announcement Friday. His last long distance call was made on behalf of NASA’s Perseverance roverthe martian robot which has been traveling the red planet since February 2021.
This isn’t the first time a Mars rover has taken a line to Earth from the Mars Express spacecraft. In 2004, the orbiter flew over NASA’s Spirit rover and transmitted a series of commands to the robot, while Spirit sent its data to Mars Express to send back to Earth. It marked the first time that two space agencies have created a communication network around another planet.
After its three-way call with Spirit and ground control, ESA’s Mars Express conducted seven communication tests with Spirit’s sister rover, Opportunity, in 2008. Later in 2012, Mars Express transferred valuable data from NASA’s Curiosity rover, who has been traveling Mars for 10 years, at mission control. The spacecraft did this by pointing its lander communications antenna at Curiosity for 15 minutes while the rover transmitted its data to it, then pointing its more powerful high-gain antenna at Earth to transmit the information. The data in question was a photo of a rock on Mars, and it was the first time Mars Express had been used to transfer scientific data.
In addition to the four NASA robots, Mars Express also relayed data from NASA InSight Lander and China’s Zhurong rover. JThe orbiter also helped track the landing of the NASA Phoenix Lander in May 2008.
The Mars Express spacecraft departed Earth for Mars in June 2003 and entered Mars orbit after a six-month journey through space. The aging orbiter is still going strong and recently had a much needed Software update to improve its ability to send and receive signals. Although Mars Express is ESA’s least expensive mission nowadays, it provided valuable data on Mars, as well as its Moon Phobos. After 19 years of service, the orbiter could complete its mission by December this year, and finally hook up its line to the ground.
After: Mars spacecraft has been running on Windows 98 Era software for 19 years, but no more
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