Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Crucial moments on the way to Mars

03.12.2003


Mars Express, ESA’s first probe to Mars, still has some challenges to face.



The spacecraft has successfully come through its first power test after the gigantic solar flare on 28 October.

Since 17 November the on-board software has been ’frozen’ after several updates and the spacecraft is now quietly proceeding to its destination. The next major task, starting on 19 December, will be to safely release the Beagle 2 lander.


Separation

To deliver Beagle 2 where planned, Mars Express has been put on a collision course with Mars, since Beagle 2 does not have a propulsion system of its own and must therefore be aimed precisely at its destination.

Intense activity will begin six days before the arrival at Mars on 25 December with the release of Beagle 2. The orbiter will follow Beagle 2 for a while until, three days before arrival at Mars, ground controllers must make it change trajectory to avoid crashing onto the planet.

This will be the first time that an orbiter delivers a lander without its own propulsion onto a planet and attempts orbit insertion immediately afterwards.

Orbit insertion

The spacecraft speed will be reduced from about 11 kilometres per second to 9 kilometres per second. At that speed, the planet’s gravitational field will be enough to ‘capture’ Mars Express and put it into Martian orbit.

Several manoeuvres will follow to set the spacecraft into its final operational orbit. This orbit is a highly elliptical polar orbit, taking Mars Express as close as 260 kilometres from the Martian surface, and out to more than 11 000 kilometres away at its furthest from the planet.

This is another crucial moment, as it is the first time after the launch that the orbiter’s propulsion system comes into action. On top of this, the deployment of the radar booms will take place – one of the most critical instrument activities.

Landing

The landing itself is another very complicated and challenging operation. Beagle 2 will enter the Martian atmosphere at 20 000 kilometres per hour, but friction with the thin atmosphere will slow it down. Once its speed has decreased to about 1600 kilometres per hour, two parachutes will be deployed in sequence.

Finally, large, gas-filled bags will inflate to protect the lander as it bounces on the surface. Once Beagle 2 comes to a halt, the bags are ejected and the lander can open up and start operating.

Any one of these operations could go wrong. An incorrect alignment of the lander could mean it burns up in the atmosphere. The parachutes could fail to deploy, plunging Beagle 2 into the surface at great speed. The balloons could become detached, or get punctured, again possibly causing Beagle 2 to crash.

If the lander does not land on the planned spot, then this is less serious. The landing area is not one ‘spot’ but a large ‘ellipsis’, 300 kilometres long and 100 kilometres wide.

It has been calculated taking into account the density of the Martian atmosphere, the winds and many other factors. So the risk of missing the landing site is very small. If the winds are stronger than calculated, for instance, they may ‘push’ Beagle 2 a little further away, but still within the selected area.

Top-class science

On the orbiter, if one or more of the instruments fail, then the mission could still carry on. All seven instruments on board are designed to work independently. So even some instruments fail, it would still be possible to perform top-class science.

Past missions to Mars have been lost due to a variety of problems, ranging from trivial errors in calculations to system problems. Errors can always happen, but all aspects of the Mars Express mission have been tested as much as possible to be confident that there will be no errors due to trivial mistakes. Mars Express has been developed in a record-breaking time, but there have been no compromises in testing.

Irina Bruckner | ESA
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/export/SPECIALS/Mars_Express/SEM5Z0UZJND_0.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Discovery of an Extragalactic Hot Molecular Core
29.09.2016 | National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

nachricht Swiss space research reaches for the sky
29.09.2016 | Schweizerischer Nationalfonds SNF

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New welding process joins dissimilar sheets better

Friction stir welding is a still-young and thus often unfamiliar pressure welding process for joining flat components and semi-finished components made of light metals.
Scientists at the University of Stuttgart have now developed two new process variants that will considerably expand the areas of application for friction stir welding.
Technologie-Lizenz-Büro (TLB) GmbH supports the University of Stuttgart in patenting and marketing its innovations.

Friction stir welding is a still-young and thus often unfamiliar pressure welding process for joining flat components and semi-finished components made of...

Im Focus: First quantum photonic circuit with electrically driven light source

Optical quantum computers can revolutionize computer technology. A team of researchers led by scientists from Münster University and KIT now succeeded in putting a quantum optical experimental set-up onto a chip. In doing so, they have met one of the requirements for making it possible to use photonic circuits for optical quantum computers.

Optical quantum computers are what people are pinning their hopes on for tomorrow’s computer technology – whether for tap-proof data encryption, ultrafast...

Im Focus: OLED microdisplays in data glasses for improved human-machine interaction

The Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP has been developing various applications for OLED microdisplays based on organic semiconductors. By integrating the capabilities of an image sensor directly into the microdisplay, eye movements can be recorded by the smart glasses and utilized for guidance and control functions, as one example. The new design will be debuted at Augmented World Expo Europe (AWE) in Berlin at Booth B25, October 18th – 19th.

“Augmented-reality” and “wearables” have become terms we encounter almost daily. Both can make daily life a little simpler and provide valuable assistance for...

Im Focus: Artificial Intelligence Helps in the Discovery of New Materials

With the help of artificial intelligence, chemists from the University of Basel in Switzerland have computed the characteristics of about two million crystals made up of four chemical elements. The researchers were able to identify 90 previously unknown thermodynamically stable crystals that can be regarded as new materials. They report on their findings in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

Elpasolite is a glassy, transparent, shiny and soft mineral with a cubic crystal structure. First discovered in El Paso County (Colorado, USA), it can also be...

Im Focus: Complex hardmetal tools out of the 3D printer

For the first time, Fraunhofer IKTS shows additively manufactured hardmetal tools at WorldPM 2016 in Hamburg. Mechanical, chemical as well as a high heat resistance and extreme hardness are required from tools that are used in mechanical and automotive engineering or in plastics and building materials industry. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Dresden managed the production of complex hardmetal tools via 3D printing in a quality that are in no way inferior to conventionally produced high-performance tools.

Fraunhofer IKTS counts decades of proven expertise in the development of hardmetals. To date, reliable cutting, drilling, pressing and stamping tools made of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

HLF: From an experiment to an establishment

29.09.2016 | Event News

European Health Forum Gastein 2016 kicks off today

28.09.2016 | Event News

Laser use for neurosurgery and biofabrication - LaserForum 2016 focuses on medical technology

27.09.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

New Multiferroic Materials from Building Blocks

29.09.2016 | Materials Sciences

Silicon Fluorescent Material Developed Enabling Observations under a Bright “Biological Optical Window”

29.09.2016 | Materials Sciences

X-shape Bio-inspired Structures

29.09.2016 | Interdisciplinary Research

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>