The European Space Agency is moving forward to deploy the second of Mars' Express radar booms. The 20-metre (65 foot) boom is set to unfurl between June 13 and June 21. The deployment was delayed because of a problem with the first boom, which didn't unfold perfectly, so engineers had to devise a solution to warm it in the Sun to get it to fully lock into place. Once its three booms are extended, Mars Express will be able to search for underground sources of water and ice on the Red Planet.
Following in-depth analyses performed after the deployment of the first MARSIS antenna boom on board Mars Express, ESA has decided to proceed with the deployment of the second 20-metre antenna boom.
The full operation will be performed during a time frame starting 13 June and nominally ending on 21 June.
A delay in the execution of the second boom deployment was necessary, due to problems encountered with the first deployment in early May this year. During the deployment, one of the antenna hinges (the tenth) got stuck in an unlocked position. Analysis of data obtained from earlier ground testing suggested a potential solution.
The Mars Express spacecraft control team at ESA’s spacecraft Operations Centre (ESOC) succeeded in unblocking the hinge by exposing the cold side of the boom to the Sun. This warmed the hinges and the boom quickly became unstuck. In the end, the first boom deployment was completed on 10 May.
The lessons learnt during the first boom deployment were used to run new simulations and determine a new deployment scenario for the second boom. This scenario contains an additional sun-heating phase, to get the best possible thermal conditions for all hinges.
The deployment of the third (7-metre) third MARSIS boom is not considered critical. It will be commanded only once the ESA ground control team have re-acquired signal from the spacecraft, and made sure with a sequence of tests that the second boom is correctly locked into position and the spacecraft is well under control.
After this event MARSIS, the Mars Express Sub-Surface Radar Altimeter, will enter into a commissioning phase for the next few weeks, before starting to look at Mars’s ionosphere during martian daylight, and to probe down below the Martian surface during the martian night.