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Mars Express lowers orbit
Posted: Sun, Jan 4, 2004, 2:15 PM ET (1915 GMT)
Mars Express illustration (ESA) ESA's Mars Express spacecraft fired its engine Sunday to bring its orbit closer to Mars, enabling it to soon begin a search for the missing Beagle 2 lander. Mars Express fired its main engine for five minutes at 8:13 am EST (1313 GMT), lowering the apoapsis, or farthest point in its orbit from the planet, from 190,000 to 40,000 km; its periapsis is at 250 km. Two more maneuvers scheduled for the next week will further lower its apoapsis to 11,000 km. The maneuvers, when completed, will permit the spacecraft to begin scientific observations of the planet in mid-January. In addition, the spacecraft is now in position to begin searches for the Beagle 2 lander, which has not been heard from since its December 25th landing on the planet. Mars Express will pass just 315 km from the expected Beagle 2 landings site on January 7. Beagle 2 project officials hope that pass, as well as similar ones on following days, will enable Mars Express to detect signals from the lander that have to date eluded searches from NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft and Earth-based radio telescopes.
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