Europe’s first Mars mission, Mars Express, launched on June 2, 2003.
In December, the spacecraft entered orbit around Mars to research the planet’s atmosphere and temperature, structure, mineralogy, and geology, and seek for water. To explore surface, subsurface, atmosphere, and more, the mission carried eight cutting-edge sensors.
The project has traveled 1.1 billion miles over 24,000+ Mars orbits, taught 170+ PhD students, and produced 1800+ scientific publications utilizing Mars Express data. In 2019, the mission’s 15th anniversary infographic highlighted further record-breaking accomplishments.
Despite a 687-day lifespan, Mars Express has been in orbit for 20 years.
20 years of Mars Express observations have confirmed that Mars was previously habitable, with warmer and wetter epochs that may have supported ancient life. This is a huge change from our earlier picture of the Earth as cold and dry.
Mars Express has found and recorded indications of previous water across Mars, from minerals that only form in water to water-carved valleys, groundwater networks, and underground ponds, and traced its effect and prevalence throughout Martian history.
It has mapped the distribution of gases (water, ozone, methane) and dust in the Martian atmosphere. The expedition saw uncommon UV auroras and enormous dust storms that created Earth-like clouds.
The orbiter has mapped 98.8% of Mars and taken thousands of 3D images of impact craters, canyons (including the Valles Marineris system), icy poles, massive volcanoes, and more. It has investigated Mars’ innermost moon Phobos and Deimos as they traverse through the Solar System.
Mars Express has helped numerous previous missions choose a landing site, travel to Mars, contact with Earth-based ground stations, or land on Mars.
Its data supports major scientific study and discovery, including teaching young and early career researchers who will disclose the mysteries of the universe in the decades to come. Mars Express’s recent expansion allows it to support JAXA’s 2025 Mars Moons eXploration (MMX) mission.