Exploring the Solar System

Mars Missions in the Twenty-First Century

What is the Mars Express orbiter?

The Mars Express was a mission sent by the European Space Agency to Mars. It was built by a consortium of fifteen nations led by France, and consisted of an orbiter and a lander called Beagle 2. Mars Express was launched on June 2, 2003, from the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan onboard a Russian Soyuz/Fregat rocket. It arrived into orbit around Mars on Christmas Day. Six days before its arrival, it released the Beagle 2 toward the Martian surface; sadly, the lander was lost, and has yet to be found.

The Mars Express orbiter, happily, has been completely successful. It has lasted far longer than its originally planned mission lifetime of two years, and continues to take detailed images and other data of Mars, and to serve as a communications relay for data from other Martian missions.


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