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On-board technology

The most amazing pieces of technology have been developed for Mars Express in order to build up a picture of Mars that has never been seen before, and to take the search for
evidence of life to new levels of intensity.

SPICAM, ASPERA and MARSIS could hardly be called household names. But they could become just that if one of them, or one of the other instruments on-board Mars Express, discovers the clue that proves, once and for all, that there was actually life on Mars at some time in the past.

The experiments on-board Mars Express have been developed by some of the best science and engineering establishments in Europe, and all will be helping to build up a picture of
Mars’s past, present and future in unprecedented detail.

For instance, MARSIS, developed in Italy, has a massive antenna measuring 40 m long, which will bounce radio waves off the surface of the Red Planet. Some of these radio waves will actually travel below the surface, sending back messages about what it’s like under there. If it finds water and/or ice, these messages will show its thickness, and that of any other types of residue lurking down there.

The question of what happened to the water that scientists believe once flowed over the surface of Mars is a burning one. Mars Express has experiments on-board that will investigate the possibility that it could all have simply vaporised off into space. One way of studying the likelihood of this is by looking closely at the atmosphere, and whether it contains any water vapour at all over the course of the Martian year. SPICAM, developed in France, will be measuring the water vapour and the ozone in the Martian atmosphere, while the Swedish ASPERA will be looking at the oxygen and hydrogen atoms (the constituents of water) in the outer atmosphere.

Another instrument, the French OMEGA, will determine the iron content of the surface and the water content of the rock and clay minerals it observes. Yet another, the PFS developed in Italy, will be measuring the temperature and pressure of the Martian atmosphere, which is mostly carbon dioxide, and studying its other tiny constituents, looking for things such as methane, which could indicate some kind of life. Meanwhile, a super powerful camera, the German-led HRSC, will be imaging the planet in its entirety, allowing us to build up a 3D, colour view of the whole surface, in extraordinary detail. Even the radio signals carrying data between the spacecraft and Earth will be used to study the environment around Mars and its interior, using the German-led Mars Radio Science Experiment.

Mars Express will be making a fantastic contribution to our knowledge of Mars, providing data for scientists to work on for at least ten years to come.

Find out more about the technology on-board Mars Express

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