June 20th, 2012

ESA tests self-steering rover in ‘Mars’ desert ESA

ESA assembled a top engineering team then challenged them to devise a way for rovers to navigate on alien planets. Six months later, a fully autonomous vehicle was charting its own course through Chile’s Mars-like Atacama Desert.
The recent test of the Seeker full-scale rover was the outcome of gathering a multidisciplinary team at a single site, working against the clock to achieve a breakthrough. “Their challenge was to demonstrate how a planetary rover – programmed with state-of-the-art software for autonomous navigation and making decisions – could traverse 6 km in a Mars-like environment and come back where it started,” explained ESA’s Gianfranco Visentin.

February 6th, 2012

ESA’s Mars Express radar gives strong evidence for former Mars ocean ESA

ESA’s Mars Express has returned strong evidence for an ocean once covering part of Mars. Using radar, it has detected sediments reminiscent of an ocean floor within the boundaries of previously identified, ancient shorelines on Mars.
The MARSIS radar was deployed in 2005 and has been collecting data ever since. Jérémie Mouginot, Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble (IPAG) and the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues have analysed more than two years of data and found that the northern plains are covered in low-density material.
“We interpret these as sedimentary deposits, maybe ice-rich,” says Dr Mouginot. “It is a strong new indication that there was once an ocean here.”

November 1st, 2011

Mars Express observations temporarily suspended ESA

Anomalies in the operation of the solid-state mass memory system on board Mars Express have caused science observations to be temporarily halted. A technical work-around is being investigated that will enable the resumption of a number of observations and should evolve into a long-term solution.
In mid-August, Mars Express autonomously entered safe mode, an operational mode designed to safeguard both the spacecraft itself and its instrument payload in the event of faults or errors.
The cause of entering the safe mode was a complex combination of events relating to reading from and writing to memory modules in the Solid-State Mass Memory (SSMM) system. This is used to store data acquired by the instruments and housekeeping data from the spacecraft’s subsystems, prior to its transmission to Earth, and is also used to store commands for the spacecraft that have been received from the ground stations, while awaiting execution.

September 3rd, 2011

Rare martian lake delta spotted by Mars Express ESA

ESA’s Mars Express has spotted a rare case of a crater once filled by a lake, revealed by the presence of a delta. The delta is an ancient fan-shaped deposit of dark sediments, laid down in water. It is a reminder of Mars’ past, wetter climate. The delta is in the Eberswalde crater, in the southern highlands of Mars. The 65 km-diameter crater is visible as a semi-circle on the right of the image and was formed more than 3.7 billion years ago when an asteroid hit the planet.

February 6th, 2011

Mars Express puts craters on a pedestal ESA

ESA’s Mars Express has returned new views of pedestal craters in the Red Planet’s eastern Arabia Terra.
Craters are perhaps the quintessential planetary geological feature. So much so that early planetary geologists expended a lot of effort to understand them. You could say they put craters on a pedestal. This latest image of Mars shows how the Red Planet does it in reality. Craters are the result of impacts by asteroids, comets and meteorites. In a pedestal crater, the surrounding terrain is covered by pulverised rock thrown out of the crater. This material creates a platform or pedestal around the crater often with steep cliffs, and is usually rich in volatile materials such as water and ice.

March 21st, 2010

The groovy moon ESA

Without doubt, Phobos is the grooviest moon of the Solar System. By that I mean, that it is covered with a multitude of parallel grooves.
Initially, it was thought that these markings radiated away from the largest crater on Phobos. Called Stickney, the crater has a diameter of 9 km and is the most obvious feature of the moon’s pockmarked surface. Some thought that the grooves were debris ejected across Phobos during Stickney’s creation. In other words, they were similar to the bright rays of material seen emanating from some craters on the Moon. Most thought that they were fractures in the moon, opened up by the mighty impact. But these hypotheses were based upon an incomplete picture of Phobos – literally and metaphorically.

March 15th, 2010

Phobos flyby images ESA

Images from the recent flyby of Phobos, on 7 March 2010, are released today. The images show Mars’ rocky moon in exquisite detail, with a resolution of just 4.4 metres per pixel. They show the proposed landing sites for the forthcoming Phobos-Grunt mission.
ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft orbits the Red Planet in a highly elliptical, polar orbit that brings it close to Phobos every five months. It is the only spacecraft currently in orbit around Mars whose orbit reaches far enough from the planet to provide a close-up view of Phobos.

March 15th, 2010

Media opportunity: ESA presents European participants in 520-day simulated mission to Mars ESA

A crew of six, including two Europeans, will soon begin a simulated mission to Mars in a mockup that includes an interplanetary spaceship, a Mars lander and a martian landscape. The Mars500 experiment, as long as a real journey to Mars, will be second to none as the ultimate test of human endurance. The European candidates who will help to answer these fundamental questions will be presented to the media on 22 March 2010 at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Media representatives wishing to attend the event are kindly requested to fill in the attached accreditation form and return it by fax to the ESA Headquarters Media Relations Office by 18 March 2010.

February 27th, 2010

Mars Express to make closest ever approach to Phobos ESA

On 3 March 2010 Mars Express will make its closest ever approach to Phobos, the larger of the two Martian moons. During a series of flybys, spanning six weeks, all seven instruments onboard Mars Express will be utilised to study Phobos. The close approach provides a first opportunity to perform a unique gravity experiment that may reveal the distribution of mass within this intriguing moon.

February 2nd, 2010

VMC first: the shadow of Phobos! ESA

For the first-time ever, VMC has imaged what we believe to be the shadow of Mars’ moon Phobos crossing the surface of Mars. The shadow cast by Phobos as it passes between the Sun and Mars was photographed by VMC on 30 January, just as Mars Express approaches an intensive scientific observation campaign of Phobos.