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U.S. Participation in Europe's Mars Express
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Technology for Mars Express

The development of technology makes Mars exploration possible. Current missions are links in a chain of innovation from the past to the future. They rely on previous technologies created for other spacecraft and in turn contribute new technologies for missions of tomorrow.

Beagle 2 lander
Beagle 2 lander courtesy of European Space Agency Web site.
The European Space Agency named this mission Mars Express because engineers were able to pioneer faster and more flexible ways building the spacecraft and producing other technologies that make the mission possible. Mars Express is making maximum use of pre-existing technologies and technologies developed for Rosetta, a mission that will explore a comet at close quarters by orbiting it and sending a lander onto the comet to understand its icy nucleus. By using these technologies, the European Space Agency was able to cut mission design and development time from about six years to four years.

U.S. Participation in Technology Development

Technologies contributed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory include:

  • the transmitter and receiver subsystems on the MARSIS instrument, as well as its antenna
  • the electron and ion spectrometers for the ASPERA instrument
  • software known as SPICE that provides supplemental data (e.g., the spacecraft's position, the direction to the sun, instrument specifications and other data that increase the accuracy of data analysis) to the Planetary Data System, an online library where planetary data is stored and made accessible to scientists worldwide [more about SPICE]
  • software that converts data from the HRSC camera into a format that enables U.S. scientists to conduct their research and that puts it into a compatible format with the Planetary Data System so it can be archived

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory also conducted communication interoperability studies for NASA and ESA orbiters and landers at Mars. This contribution will enable NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter to serve as a back-up communications relay for the Beagle-2 lander, while the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter can in turn serve as the backup communications relay for NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers.

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