Mars Express Comes To London.
Leading European planetary scientists will be in London on March 2 - 3 for the First International Mars Express Workshop which will be held at the Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly. Speakers will cover all the major areas for which mission proposals have been submitted. In addition, there will be a review of recent Martian meteorite studies and the current state of the debate over whether they contain evidence for past Martian microbial life.
In the last few days, the European Space Agency (ESA) has received scientific and technical proposals from investigators across Europe wishing to be involved in Mars Express. The mission is planned to launch in 2003, a date which offers the best opportunity (in terms of the relative positions of Mars and Earth) to study the red planet at the beginning of the next millennium.
Amongst the proposals received by ESA are several for orbiter science which were originally planned for the ill-fated Mars 96 mission - for example, studying atmospheric composition or mapping the surface at various wavelengths. New concepts include a ground-penetrating radar which will be able to search for the planet’s missing water.
In addition to the orbiter payload, a group of three landers will touch down on the surface of Mars and offer an exciting extension to the scientific investigations. Two small (45 kg) landers have been proposed to investigate geophysical properties, including seismology and meteorology. A larger (90 kg) lander, known as Beagle 2, will also be part of the network of geophysical stations, although its main task will be to answer geochemical questions, particularly whether life could have once existed on Mars. Beagle 2 is named after the 19th century ship whose voyage enabled Charles Darwin to make momentous progress in understanding the evolution of life on Earth. The Beagle 2 consortium is headed by Professor Colin Pillinger of the Planetary Sciences Research Institute (PSRI) at the Open University. Dr. Mark Sims of the Space Sciences Centre at the University of Leicester is the Project Manager.
Beagle 2 offers a unique opportunity for British and European university and government scientists and industrial partners to work together to explore Mars. Its integrated package of instruments will analyse samples collected from below the inhospitable surface in search of a much fuller understanding of the planet’s geochemistry and of evidence for past life. The Beagle 2 instrument providers are supported by a large number of researchers in the life sciences who expect to benefit mutually from comparisons between Earth and Mars.
For technical questions about the Beagle 2 lander contact Dr. Mark Sims, Space Research Centre, Leicester University.
For information about the meeting contact Dr. Rob Hough, PSRI, The Open University.