Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/09/23/mars_express_extension/

ESA grants Mars Express another (Martian) year

A 23-month extension

By Lucy Sherriff

Posted in Science, 23rd September 2005 11:35 GMT

The European Space Agency (ESA) has extended its Mars Express mission by another Martian year. That's around 23 months in Earth money.

The Mars Express mission is the first fully European mission to another planet. It launched back in 2003 from Baikonur in Kazakhstan, and also carried the ill-fated Beagle2 lander.

Martian north polar ice cap showing layers of water ice and dust in perspective view

Since arriving in orbit around the red planet, the satellite has revealed that the face of Mars is much more complex than scientists had thought. It has sent back data on the present day climate system on Mars the planet's geological history, identified aurorae and has begun mapping water deposits.

It has confirmed the presence of methane in the Martian atmosphere which in conjunction with the possible detection of formaldehyde, suggests either current volcanic activity, or possibly even active biological processes.

The orbiter has also confirmed evidence of glacial processes near the equator and mapped carbon dioxide and water ice near the poles. Its analysis of the minerals in the Martian surface also suggests that lakes or seas probably existed on the planet for long periods of time.

The mission extension will mean that the satellite can continue mapping the planet's surface with its High Resolution Stereo Camera. So far, only 19 per cent of the surface has been imaged at high res. It also means the MARSIS radar can continue its subsurface studies - and in particular its hunt for water. ®