Mars Express

active Mission

The European Space Agency's first visit to another planet, the craft has captured high-resolution 3D images of the Martian surface, detected subsurface layers of water ice, vast reserves of ice at the poles, swaths of permafrost at the south pole, and traces of possible methane in the atmosphere, as well as visiting the tiny moons Deimos and Phobos.




June 2, 2003




NASA, Italian Space Agency (ASI)
Launch Date
June 2, 2003 | 17:45 UTC
Launch Site
Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Russia
Successful – Extended Mission in Progress
Alternate Names
2003-022A, Mars Express Orbiter


Study the Martian atmosphere and climate, the planet's structure, its mineralogy and its geology, and to search for traces of water from orbit. Mars Express also carried Britain’s unsuccessful Beagle 2 lander.


  • Sent back thousands of dramatic, 3D views of the Martian surface from the spacecraft’s high-resolution camera
  • Discovered hydrated minerals that form only in the presence of liquid water, providing confirmation that Mars was once much wetter than it is today
  • Detected subsurface layers of water ice, using the first radar sounder ever to orbit another planet
  • Identified enough water ice in the polar caps to create a global ocean 36 feet (11 meters) deep, and revealed vast plains of permafrost around the south pole

Mars Express found the highest clouds ever seen above any planetary surface at an altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers). The mission found indications of the possible presence of methane, which on Earth is attributed to active volcanism and biochemical processes.

Its highly elliptical orbit has enabled the spacecraft to look beyond Mars, to survey its two tiny moons – in particular studying the innermost satellite, Phobos, in unprecedented detail.

During its lifetime it has acted as a communication relay between Earth and various NASA spacecraft, including the Phoenix lander and several rovers on the surface.

Key Dates

June 2, 2003: Launch

Dec 19, 2003: Beagle 2 Lander Release (Unsuccessful)

Dec. 25, 2003: Mars Orbit Insertion


Launch Vehicle: Soyuz-Fregat

Spacecraft Mass: 2,696 pounds (1,223 kilograms) at launch

Spacecraft Instruments:

  1. High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC)
  2. Energetic Neutron Atoms Analyser (ASPERA)
  3. Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS)
  4. Visible and Infrared Mineralogical Mapping Spectrometer (OMEGA)
  5. Sub-Surface Sounding Radar Altimeter (MARSIS)
  6. The Radio Science Experiment (MaRS)
  7. Ultraviolet and Infrared Mars Atmospheric Spectrometer (SPICAM)
  8. Lander (Beagle 2)

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