PARIS -- Thesecond of two 20-meter-long radar booms on Europe's Mars Express satellite willbe deployed the week of June 13, an event that should permit the spacecraft tobegin looking deep beneath Mars' surface for water, the program's manager saidJune 8.
FredJansen, Mars Express mission manager at the European Space Agency (ESA), saidthe release of the second Marsis boom antenna will be prepared by orienting thesatellite toward the sun to permit the boom to warm up first.
The firstMarsis antenna failed to lock fully into position when it was unfolded in Mayand was deployed May 10 only after it was exposed to the sun. Mission managersconcluded that one of the antenna's joints had become stiff after such a longperiod in stowed position. Mars Express was launched in June 2003.
Because ofconcerns that the Marsis boom antennas could damage other Mars Expressexperiments in the event of a whiplash during deployment, the antennas remainedstowed to give the six other sensors time to gather information about Mars'atmosphere and surface.
Jensen saidin an interview that Mars Express will be made ready for the second boomantenna's deployment starting June 13, with the antenna to be unfolded over atwo-day period starting June 15.
If all goeswell, the third and final radar boom, this one just 7 meters long, will bedeployed on June 20, followed by a three-week testing period.
Jensen saidthat once successfully deployed, the Marsis radar will spend the first fivemonths taking readings mainly of Mars' atmosphere rather than peering deepbeneath its surface. The satellite's orbit between now and November is suchthat lighting conditions are not favorable to take subsurface readings.
Deploymentof the second 20-meter boom also will permit ESA ground controllers to fly thesatellite in its normal mode. Since the first boom's deployment, Mars Expresshas been kept in "robust" mode to compensate for the minor disequilibriumresulting from having only one of the two unfolded.
Europeanscience managers in September are expected to approve a 23-month extension ofthe Mars Express mission, to December 2007, with the Marsis radar soundings tobe the highlight of the next two years' operations.