Image: Mars Express and Beagle 2
ESA
An artist's conception shows the Mars Express orbiter, at right, ejecting the Beagle 2 lander toward Mars, days in advance of the scheduled landing.
By Space News Staff Writer
updated 12/16/2003 5:14:00 PM ET 2003-12-16T22:14:00

Ground controllers of Europe's Mars Express satellite have successfully completed a precision-pointing maneuver to prepare the satellite for Friday's planned ejection of its small Beagle 2 lander, the mission's flight director said.

Michael McKay, flight operations director at the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, said Mars Express was rotated and its engines briefly fired Tuesday to increase the satellite's speed as it approaches Mars as part of the maneuver.

"This is about the most accurate pointing of a satellite we have ever had to do," McKay said in a telephone interview. "It was successfully completed." Signals to and from Mars Express are delivered via a new 115-foot (35-meter) tracking antenna that the European Space Agency recently installed in New Norcia, Australia, near Perth.

Mission managers have narrowed the likely Beagle 2 landing point to an area measuring almost 125 miles (200 kilometers) in width and 31 miles (50 kilometers) in length.

After Friday's ejection of Beagle 2, Mars Express will continue to follow the lander for five days before performing a breaking maneuver that will put it into a 250-mile (400-kilometer) orbit around Mars. The satellite is equipped with radar and optical cameras to study Mars' atmosphere and surface. Beagle 2 is scheduled to land on Mars on Dec. 25 to begin a six-month search for signs of past or present life on Mars.

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