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Matra Marconi Space has been recommended as Prime Contractor for the Mars Express spacecraft by the Industrial Policy Committee of the European Space Agency. The contract for the design and development of this first European spacecraft to visit the planet Mars is worth 60 million ECU (US$ 70 millions). Both French and UK sites of Matra Marconi Space will be involved.

Development of the spacecraft should now proceed swiftly, to meet the deadline of an exceptionally favourable launch window early in June 2003. The Mars Express spacecraft will be placed in an elliptical, quasi-polar orbit around Mars by Christmas 2003.

Mars Express is the first flexible mission of the revised ESA long-term scientific programme, Horizons 2000. It is designed to be a pivotal element of an international multi-mission, global effort for the exploration of Mars. Seven scientific instruments on board will perform numerous tasks : global high-resolution photogeology, global mineralogical mapping, global atmospheric circulation and mapping of the atmospheric composition, radar sounding of the subsurface structure down to the permafrost, study of surface-atmosphere interactions and interaction of the atmosphere with the interplanetary environment. Scientists can hope to detect sub-surface water, whether it exists in the form of underground rivers, pools, glaciers or permafrost. The Mars Express spacecraft will also provide relay communication services between the Earth and landers and rovers to be deployed on the surface of Mars between 2003 and 2007.

Matra Marconi Space is also involved in the design and manufacture of the Beagle 2 lander, carried by the Mars Express spacecraft. This project, led by the Open University in the United Kingdom and supported by the University of Leicester, will perform exobiology and geochemistry research on the planet’s surface, looking for life on Mars.

The low cost of the mission is achievable through new and innovative approaches to working between industry, agencies and the scientific community, and through the intensive re-use of equipment developed for Rosetta, the other ESA interplanetary mission currently under development. As a result, Mars Express will be the cheapest ever mission to Mars and is seen as a test case for these new methods. It will provide a good basis to lower the costs of future ESA missions.

MATRA MARCONI SPACE, the joint venture company formed by LAGARDERE (France) and GEC (UK), is Europe's leading satellite manufacturer. It employs 5,000 people, of whom 2,300 are in France and 2,700 in the UK. With a turnover in 1997 of US$1.5 billion, its activities cover science and Earth observation, military observation and communications, telecommunications and ground infrastructure, launchers, manned flight and orbital infrastructure.

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