Mars Express Communicates With Curiosity
November 26, 2012

Mars Express Relays Rocky Images From Curiosity Rover

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

The European Space Agency's Mars Express has relayed scientific data from NASA's Curiosity rover for the first time.

The data from Curiosity included detailed images of "Rocknest 3" taken by the rover's ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager camera.

ChemCam consists of the camera along with a Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer, which fires a laser at targets and analyzes the chemical composition of vaporized material.

Curiosity transmitted scientific data up to the ESA satellite for 15 minutes, and a few hours later Mars Express pointed its high-gain antenna toward Earth and began downlinking the information to the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany.

The data was then immediately made available to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, helping them prove that Curiosity was able to talk with ESA's satellite as well.

The first image was taken before a series of five ChemCam laser blasts, while the second image was taken after. The images were first taken early in the morning on October 6.

“The quality of these images from ChemCam is outstanding, and the mosaic image of the spectrometer analyses has been essential for scientific interpretation of the data,” said Sylvestre Maurice, Deputy Principal Investigator for ChemCam at France´s Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP).

“This combination of imaging and analysis has demonstrated its potential for future missions.”

This isn't the first time ESA's Mars satellite has been used by NASA for its rover missions. The European Space Agency has also helped out the U.S. space agency with its Phoenix, Spirit and Opportunity rovers. Mars Express was also used during Curiosity's landing in August.

Mars Express will be providing additional relay shots to NASA, while maintaining its own scientific observations, according to ESA. The orbiter can also relay services in case of unavailability of NASA's relay orbiter.

“ESA—NASA cooperation at Mars is a continuing success, and comes after both sides have worked diligently for a number of years to set technical and engineering standards to enable sharing data between spacecraft, networks and ground stations,” said Mars Express Spacecraft Operations Manager Michel Denis.

“Exploring Mars is a huge challenge, and space agencies are working to boost cooperation and mutual support for current and upcoming missions. It´s the way of the future.”