Past Missions

Mars Express is the first "flexible" mission from the European Space Agency, comprising the Mars Express orbiter and the Beagle 2 lander. Mars Express launched on 2 June 2003 at 18:45 BST on a Soyuz-Fregat launch vehicle and arrived in orbit around Mars on 25 December 2003. Two successful in-flight checkouts of Beagle 2 were carried out when Mars Express and Beagle 2 arrived in orbit around Mars, one on 15 July 2003 and another on 1 September 2003. The probe was successfully released from Mars Express on 19 December 2003 and should have landed on Isidis Planitia on 25 December but contact was received from the probe. The mission was declared lost on 11 February 2004.

Science goals

The scientific objectives of the lander were to:

  • Search for criteria relating to past life on Mars.
  • Measure the detailed atmospheric composition to establish the geological history of the planet and to document the processes involved in seasonal climatic changes or diurnal cycling.
  • Investigate the oxidative state of the martian surface, rock interiors and beneath boulders.
  • Examine the geological nature of the rocks, their chemistry, mineralogy, petrology and age.
  • Characterise the geomorphology of the landing site.
  • Appraise the environmental conditions including temperature, pressure, wind speed, UV flux, oxidation potential, dust environment etc.


  • Payload Adjustable Workbench (PAW): consisting of a pair of stereo cameras, a microscope, spectrometers, a spotlamp and a drill for collecting samples.
  • Gas Analysis Package (GAP).
  • Planetary Undersurface Tool (PLUTO).

Further information

Beagle 2 website

Mars Express homepage at ESA

Giotto was the European Space Agency's first interplanetary mission, and was part of the international armada of spacecraft which made flybys of Comet P/Halley in 1986. Following its encounter with Halley, the spacecraft was put into hibernation. It was reawoken to make a close approach of Earth in 1990, which enabled it to make a flyby of Comet Grigg-Skjellerup in July 1992.

The mission

Giotto was approved by ESA in 1980 and was launched on an Ariane 1 launch vehicle on 2 July 1985 from Kourou. Giotto successfully made its closest approach of 596 km to Halley on 14 March 1986. The spacecraft survived despite being hit by small particles. One impact destabilised the spacecraft (which was corrected by the spacecraft itself) and another destroyed the Halley Multicolour Camera, but thankfully the camera failed after taking spectacular images of the nucleus of the comet. Giotto was set on a trajectory back to Earth and the spacecraft was put into hibernation. The spacecraft was reawoken for the Earth swingby and used a slingshot to send it onto comet Comet Grigg-Skjellerup. It made its closest approach of 200 km to Grigg-Skjellerup on 10 July 1992. Giotto was then switched off again.

Further information

Giotta pages at ESA

Page last modified on 09 jul 12 18:37 by Joanna N Fabbri