Press Release

Clamps away, Mars Express eases its grip on its lander

By SpaceRef Editor
June 5, 2003
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Clamps away, Mars Express eases its grip on its lander
Mars Express

Europe’s first mission to the Red Planet, continues its successful mission with
another successful ‘high-risk’ post-launch milestone. Mars Express engineers
breathed a sigh of relief this morning at the European Space Operations Centre
(ESOC), in Germany.

If a particularly delicate operation had not proceeded as planned, it would
been impossible to deploy the Mars Express lander, Beagle 2, on arrival at Mars.

This crucial operation consisted of releasing Beagle-2’s launch clamps. These
clamps are extra attachments that ensure the lander stays perfectly fixed to
spacecraft during the launch and is not affected by launch vibrations. After
launch, these clamps are no longer needed, since another mechanism keeps Beagle
2 in place during the six-month trip to the Red Planet.

This second mechanism allows Mars Express to deploy Beagle 2 on arrival at
However, if the launch clamps had not released today, the second mechanism
have failed. "The Beagle-2 mission would have been over before it had even
started!" commented ESA Lander Manager, Con McCarthy.

The release of the launch clamps started at 10.10 CEST and lasted about 30
minutes. The release mechanism itself is unusual. Usually, launch clamps
a firework-like mechanism, but Mars Express had a much gentler release
for Beagle. It consisted of a sleeve over a clamp bolt; an electric current
heats the sleeve to about 100 C. At that temperature, the sleeve expands and
bolt snaps. There were three bolts and they all broke in sequence.

"We had to wait two minutes for the expansion of the sleeve which snapped the
bolt. The atmosphere in the room was tense and those two minutes seemed to last
an eternity! When the first bolt went, a lot of tension was released," says

There are more hurdles ahead but Mars Express is demonstrating that it can deal
with the many challenges on the way to the Red Planet.

Mars Express launch replay,

Related articles

* Mars Express en route for the Red Planet

* Mars Express — ESA sets ambitious goals for the first European mission to

* ESA’s Mars Express ready for launch

* Mars Express leaves for Baikonur

Related links

* ESA Science

* Live images of Mars Express

* Russian Space Agency

The Beagle 2 lander, to be carried on ESA’s Mars Express, is equipped with a
suite of instruments designed to look for evidence of life on Mars.

The Soyuz/Fregat lifts off on 2 June 2003 with ESA’s Mars Express. Europe’s
first mission to the Red Planet leaves Earth when the positions of the two
planets make for the shortest possible route, a condition that occurs once
twenty-six months. The intrepid spacecraft will start its six-month journey
the Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan onboard a Russian Soyuz/Fregat launcher.

Credits: ESA 2001. Illustration by Medialab.

SpaceRef staff editor.