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Mars orbit insertion - a new challenge for Europe success with ESA's Mars Express

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3 Author(s)
Fischer, J. ; Spacecraft Oper. Eng. Services, Eur. Space Oper. Centre, Darmstadt ; Denis, M. ; Moorhouse, A.

The 25th of December 2003 will always be remembered as one of the special, even historic, days for the European Space Agency (ESA). When precisely at the predicted time the spacecraft Mars Express emerged from behind the planet Mars, after a 40 minute burn of its main engine, and the first signal was received by the ground station, it became clear that one of the most ambitious challenges undertaken by the European Space Agency so far was a tremendous success: The safe insertion of a spacecraft into Mars orbit. It was a challenge in many aspects: a new generation of science missions, known as flexi missions, built and launched in record time with a minimum cost; a double mission having an orbiter and a lander, where the lander is ejected to its targeted site with high precision only a few days prior to inserting the orbiter into a Mars bound orbit; the first European attempt to send a spacecraft into orbit around another planet; the first European attempt to land on another planet. Looking at the history of attempts to orbit or land on the planet Mars, this is not an easy task. Out of the 39 missions sent out to the red planet, only 16 were successful. Out of those 16 missions 4 were flybys and 7 were landers, which leaves only 5 successful Mars orbit insertions. This shows how difficult it is to navigate a spacecraft over a distance of up to 400.000.000 km to a target planet in a safe and efficient way. Not only the final act of orbit insertion is important, it is the achievement of a long process from manufacturing of the spacecraft, team building, preparation of the ground segment and operations procedures, simulations, launch of the spacecraft, precise navigation and overcoming any obstacles and problems until the planet is in view. This requires a multiteam effort from various parties involved. This paper will elaborate on the organization and efforts that had to be made to achieve the goal, coping with the specific challenges of the Mars Express Mission and sh- - ow why the Mars orbit insertion phase was so critical and exciting from the perspective of the Mars Express Flight Control Team

Published in:

Aerospace Conference, 2005 IEEE

Date of Conference:

5-12 March 2005