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Mars Express Status Report: Oct - Dec 2006

Status Report From: ESA Mars Express Mission
Posted: Friday, December 22, 2006

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Overall Mission, Payload, and Science Planning Status Since the last status report, the Mars Express spacecraft, subsystems and payload continued functioning well (after more than 3 years in space), with the planned Medium Term Plans MTP31 to MTP33 successfully executed. The planning of the upcoming MTP 34 and 35 has been completed, and planning of MTP 36 and 37 is ongoing.

The power-wise very challenging eclipse/aphelion season of the late summer, as well as the subsequent solar conjunction period, both have been passed successfully with the spacecraft in special configurations. At the request of NASA, Mars Express, via its HRSC imaging instrument, is currently performing a search for the MGS spacecraft which was recently declared lost.

Early next year (Feb-Mar 2007) the default Mars Express ground station (New Norcia) will be used by Rosetta for the preparation and execution of its Mars flyby. With limited ground station time available from Cebreros (used by Venus Express) or from the Deep Space Network, this period lasting up to 2 months will be characterised by low science return for Mars Express. A number of coordinated scientific observations (plasma and spectrometry measurements) between Mars Express and Rosetta instruments have nevertheless been planned during the Rosetta Mars swingby.

The 22nd Mars Express Science Working Team meeting was held on 6-7 December 2006 at ESTEC. One of the major topics discussed was the evolution of the Mars Express orbit, which is rapidly moving into a situation with pericentre passages predominantly happening in the dark. The orbit will be changed to support a more balanced day-time/night-time distribution to enable science possibilities for all instruments.

Science Highlights

The latest major Mars Express discovery was made by the MARSIS radar team concerning observations strongly suggesting that ancient impact craters lie buried beneath the smooth, low plains of the northern hemisphere of Mars. The results suggest that the northern lowlands crust is as old as the oldest exposed southern highlands, also dated to the Noachian epoch, and that the dichotomy between northern and southern hemispheres probably formed very early in the h istory of Mars. These results are published in the journal Nature. A dedicated Mars Express session took place at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in mid-December. Similar dedicated sessions are planned for the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) and the European Geosciences Union (EGU) in 2007. Science Data Archiving The Planetary Science Archive (PSA) is being continuously used by the public to retrieve Mars Express data.

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