The European Space Agency (ESA) is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the launch of its first Mars probe with an original event. During this event, the Mars Express orbiter transmitted video recordings from Mars to Earth in real time. Although in fact, the transmission was as close to reality as possible, given that the Red Planet is located at a distance of about 300 million kilometers from Earth. This is equivalent to the nearly 17 light minutes it takes to transmit data between Mars Express and the mission control center on Earth.
ESA representatives reported that the Mars Express team had been working for several months on the development of special tools for live broadcasting. This was a big challenge, as the team was used to processing and releasing images only once every few days, and not in real time. Therefore, there was no guarantee that everything would go flawlessly during this unprecedented online broadcast. However, the images from Mars appeared on time according to the planned schedule.
The live broadcast lasted about an hour. Watching it, viewers saw a slightly blurred slice of Mars taken by the Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) on board the orbiting probe. Each subsequent image captured a slightly different view of the planet as the Mars Express moved around it.
Initially, VMC was developed as an engineering tool; its main task was to document the separation of the European Beagle 2 lander, which launched together with Mars Express on June 2, 2003. This separation took place on schedule in the orbit of Mars on Christmas 2003. Beagle 2 obviously landed safely, but was never able to “call” home. Later, the researchers determined that one or more of the lander’s four solar panels probably did not deploy properly, blocking the Beagle 2 communications antenna and condemning it to eternal silence on the Martian surface.
The mission team turned off the VMC shortly after the separation of Beagle 2, but turned it back on in 2007 to serve as a tool for educational work. The camera was also used for scientific observations.
For almost 20 years of being on the Red Planet, Mars Express has achieved a lot with the help of these tools. For example, the orbiter detected methane in the rarefied Martian atmosphere, discovered a possible salt lake under the south pole of Mars and mapped the composition of ice at both poles of the planet.
Earlier we reported on how Mars Express captured the “holiday” landscape at the south pole of Mars.
According to New Scientist
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