Auspicious orbit marks run-up to Phobos flyby

Jan 29, 2010
An image of Phobos by the High-Resolution Stereo Camera on board Mars Express on 22 January 2007. The larger and inner of the two martian moons is seen here floating just above the martian limb. The image has been enhanced slightly to bring out the detail on the moon. Credits: ESA/ DLR/ FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

(PhysOrg.com) -- On 26 January, Mars Express completed its 7777th orbit around the Red Planet, an auspicious milestone as the satellite is readied for the closest-ever flyby of Phobos, scheduled for just a few weeks from now.

Mars Express has been in orbit since 25 December 2003, returning a wealth of scientific information and some of the most stunning high-resolution imagery of the ever. Its data have allowed scientists to measure the abundance of water ice and vapour in the martian subsurface, surface and the atmosphere, as well as previously unknown in the atmosphere.

This week, the orbiter completed 7777 circuits of the planet and continues to operate flawlessly. Currently, each orbit takes 6 hours and 54 minutes. The spacecraft is following a polar orbit, and at closest approach passes just 350 km above the surface of Mars and, at farthest approach, 10 300 km.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
In a first, ESA’s Mars Express orbiter imaged the martian moons Phobos and Deimos together on 5 November 2009. Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Closest-ever Phobos flyby

This highly will enable , on 3 March, to conduct the closest flyby and examination of , Mars’ largest moon. The flyby, at a planned altitude of just 50 km, will collect very precise radio Doppler data to help determine the moon’s gravity field more accurately than ever.

This close flyby will be bracketed by similarly close passages, which will be used for other scientific investigations including radar sounding and imaging.
Knowing the will help scientists to understand the distribution of mass inside the moon, which is another step in the quest to discover the origin of Phobos.

None of the other spacecraft now orbiting Mars can fly as close to Phobos. While Mars is the mission’s primary target, this flyby is an excellent opportunity for additional scientific investigation of the Mars system, and will boost overall science return.

This Phobos flyby is combined with a sequence of precise orbit manoeuvres planned in February and March. They will increase the orbit duration to almost exactly 7 hours, in order to improve the Sun illumination of the ground track pictured by the spacecraft for many years to come.

Mars Express is scheduled to operate until 2012; a further extension to 2014 will be assessed this year.

Mars Express Orbit 7777

• Mars Express completes one orbit of the Red Planet in just under 7 hours
• Mars Express carries a suite of 7 scientific instruments
• The spacecraft is in its 7th year of operation

Explore further: SpaceX launches supplies to space station (Update)

Related Stories

Mars Express to rendezvous with Martian moon

Jul 16, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists and engineers are preparing ESA’s Mars Express for a pair of close fly-bys of the Martian moon Phobos. Passing within 100 km of the surface, Mars Express will conduct some of ...

Pioneering images of both martian moons (w/ Video)

Dec 11, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- For the very first time, the martian moons Phobos and Deimos have been caught on camera together. ESA's Mars Express orbiter took these pioneering images last month. Apart from their ‘wow’ ...

Scientists close in on the origin of Mars' larger moon

Oct 16, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- European space scientists are getting closer to unravelling the origin of Mars’ larger moon, Phobos. Thanks to a series of close encounters by ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft, the moon looks ...

Mars under the spotlight again

Mar 13, 2006

Relieved UK scientists are celebrating the news that NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) appears to have smoothly entered Mars orbit on Friday night (March 10th). Entering orbit is one of the most critical ...

Recommended for you

SpaceX launches supplies to space station (Update)

4 hours ago

The SpaceX company returned to orbit Friday, launching fresh supplies to the International Space Station after more than a month's delay and setting the stage for urgent spacewalking repairs.

Sun emits a mid-level solar flare

4 hours ago

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:03 a.m. EDT on April 18, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

7 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

The importance of plumes

7 hours ago

The Hubble Space Telescope is famous for finding black holes. It can pick out thousands of galaxies in a patch of sky the size of a thumbprint. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Hubble provided ...

Ceres and Vesta Converge in Virgo

10 hours ago

Don't let them pass you by. Right now and continuing through July, the biggest and brightest asteroids will be running on nearly parallel tracks in the constellation Virgo and so close together they'll easily ...

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Psyleid
not rated yet Jan 29, 2010
We never made it to Mars! Look, there are no stars in the background!

(sarcasm)
yyz
not rated yet Jan 29, 2010
Sounds like they're collecting data for future missions to Phobos(either sample return or landers). Congrats to ESA and the Mars Express team for the phenomenal success of this mission.
trucks
not rated yet Jan 30, 2010
Looks like a paste job of a photo
no change in reflection even though
the picture angle changed
Jayofalltrades
not rated yet Jan 30, 2010
Yeah, the moon doesn't look much different if you are on the East coast compared to the West coast either. Must be a paste job.
Husky
not rated yet Jan 30, 2010
i think Phobos could serve as counterweight for marsian spacetether, cargo would be shot to the moving tether by a magrail located on olympus mons, wich is already 32 km above the surface and low air resistance and catched by the tether. Continious hoisting operations would lower Phobos orbit and have it crash into mars eventually, but not before a thousand years of heavy lifting for mankind.
yyz
not rated yet Jan 30, 2010
According to the Mars Express site "The image has been enhanced slightly to bring out the detail on the moon. " This may result in 'odd' look. Mars Express home: http://www.esa.in...G_0.html

Phobos could be used as a platform to direct telerobotic missions on the surface or in the atmosphere. No hours-long delay in sending/receiving commands. Might want to operate a low gravity staging area for missions down to the planet and back.

More news stories

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

Treating depression in Parkinson's patients

A group of scientists from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging has found interesting new information in a study on depression and neuropsychological function in Parkinson's ...