This orbiter transmitted data from seven different missions to Mars.

When a rover explores the surface of Mars, it doesn’t send data directly to Earth. This is for two reasons: first, it would require a large, powerful antenna that would be cumbersome and expensive to add, and second, due to the rotations of Earth and Mars, any location on the surface would point in the wrong direction. weather.

Therefore, to retrieve data from Mars surface missions, we use a network of Mars orbiters, which collect data from rovers and landers and relay it to earth. Known as the Mars Relay Network, these orbiting spacecraft perform relay functions in addition to their scientific functions of observing the Red Planet. Recently, one of those orbiters, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express, set a new record for transmitting data from seven different Mars surface missions.

Artist’s impression of Mars Express. The spacecraft left Earth for Mars on June 2, 2003. It reached its destination after a six-month journey and has been studying the planet since early 2004. ESA – D. Ducros

Since arriving at Mars in December 2003, Mars Express has transmitted data from six NASA surface missions (four rovers and two landers) and one Chinese rover. Spacecraft operating on Mars are designed to be interoperable with their radio communications so that surface missions and orbiters built by different agencies can communicate with each other. This level of international cooperation means that data from a rover can be relayed by the nearest orbiter, even if it’s from a different country.

“Data transmission is an essential part of Mars exploration,” James Godfrey, Mars Express spacecraft operations manager at ESA’s ESOC Mission Control Center, said in a statement. statement. “We are proud that Mars Express has played a role in the inter-agency data relay network on Mars for many years and has supported so many surface assets. This network will be vital to support future missions to the Red Planet, such as those of the Mars Sample Return campaign.

Mars Express transmitted data from NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity small rovers, which studied the geology of Mars up close from the Phoenix and InSight landers. These landers studied the history of water and the interior of the planet. The Curiosity and Perseverance rovers have also relayed data, which are currently searching for evidence of ancient life there. Last year, Mars Express also carried out a Communication Test with China’s Zhurong rover, testing a new technique for sending data in one or two directions.

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