This Saturday, June 2, will mark the 15th anniversary of the launch of the European space probe Mars Express that was developed with participation by scientists based at Freie Universität Berlin. The probe was launched on June 2, 2003, at the Baikonur Space Center aboard a Russian Soyuz-FG Fregat rocket and entered orbit around Mars in December 2003. Since then, the on-board German camera, a high resolution stereo camera (HRSC) developed by Gerhard Neukum (1944-2014), who at that time was a professor of planetary sciences at Freie Universität Berlin, has been continuously recording data from the Martian surface. When the camera data are processed, they yield colorful 3D images and animated flights over the Red Planet. They reveal Mars landscapes that are incredibly diverse: ice-covered polar ice caps, old highlands covered with impact craters, gigantic volcanoes, deep gorges, dry river valleys, and deposits suggesting the presence of lakes and possibly oceans in the early days of Mars.
The Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing unit at Freie Universität Berlin has been involved in the HRSC Mars Express project since 2003.
The scientists’ main focus is on completing and improving mosaics of individual image strips that the probe records in orbit. The researchers put these huge amounts of image data into a global map to derive physical and geological information about the formation and evolution of the planet.
More than 1,000 views and videos have been produced since the Mars Express Mission was started on June 2, 2003, at the Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing unit at Freie Universität Berlin. They were published online by the European Space Agency, the German Aerospace Agency, and Freie Universität Berlin. "Due to the camera data, our view of Mars has changed over the last 15 years. Today we understand the geological processes that have shaped its surface better than ever before," stressed Stefanie Musiol. Even now, after orbiting Mars more than 18,000 times, the HRSC is still reliably sending data to Earth that enrich our knowledge of the Red Planet.