May 5, 2003
ESA's Mars Express Ready for Launch
Launch platform in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
Just before midnight on 2 June 2003 (23:45 local time, 19:45 CEST),
a Soyuz rocket operated by Starsem will lift off from the Baikonur
Cosmodrome, and Mars Express will be on its way. The spacecraft was
given the green light to launch following a successful flight readiness
review on 3 May 2003.
The Mars Express launch window opens on 23 May 2003 and lasts only
four weeks. However, just before the spacecraft was due to leave
Toulouse, France, for its trip to Baikonur in Kazakhstan, engineers
discovered a fault in one of the electronics modules. "Of course, it was
the most difficult box to remove from the spacecraft," says Rudi Schmidt,
the Mars Express Project Manager, with a smile.
In view of the estimated time needed to correct the fault, the launch
date was initially put back from 23 May to 6 June 2003, still within the
launch window. However, thanks to the skill and dedication of the
engineering team, the job was completed sooner than expected and the
launch date was brought forward.
Artist's concept of Mars Express on the Fregat upper stage of a launcher.
Mars Express is currently being fuelled, an operation that takes about
a week. It will then be attached to Fregat, the Soyuz upper stage rocket
booster, and mated with the Soyuz rocket. The whole system will be
rolled out to the pad four days before launch. The journey to Mars will
take six months and the spacecraft should enter its Martian orbit on
26 December 2003.
Europe's contribution to the exploration of the Red Planet will begin soon.
For more information, please contact:
ESA Communication Department
Media Relations Office
Tel: +33 (0)1 5369 7155
Fax: +33 (0)1 5369 7690