Reload this page for updates on the countdown and launch of the Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket with the Europe's Mars Express orbiter and the Beagle 2 lander.

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MONDAY, JUNE 2, 2003

Kicking off a string of Mars launches this month, a Russian Soyuz booster did its job Monday as it placed the first European mission to the Red Planet onto the path that will see it arrive late this year amidst a flurry of international science missions. Read our full story.

2011 GMT (4:11 p.m. EDT)

Mission controllers have proudly announced that the Mars Express spacecraft is operating normally following its launch today. The two solar arrays have been deployed and nominal currents are reported on the craft's batteries.

"It looks as though we got a spacecraft in really excellent condition and we are well on our way for our first mission to Mars," mission control reported.

1952 GMT (3:52 p.m. EDT)

The European Space Agency has declared today's launch a success for the Mars Express spacecraft and Beagle 2 lander.

1946 GMT (3:46 p.m. EDT)

Signals from Mars Express have been acquired by a ground tracking station. Officials will be able to confirm the spacecraft's health and orbit a little later, ESA says.

1922 GMT (3:22 p.m. EDT)

ESA says the Mars Express appears to be on the proper trajectory. Confirmation of its orbit will be verified later today.

1919 GMT (3:19 p.m. EDT)

Launch has been completed! The European Space Agency says the second burn of Fregat has been performed as planned and that the Mars Express spacecraft has been deployed for its journey!

Mission controllers are now standing by to establish contact with Mars Express.

1820 GMT (2:20 p.m. EDT)

"Europe is on its way to Mars," Professor David Southwood, director of ESA's science program, said a short time ago. "Mars Express made a very, very good start to its long journey to the Red Planet."

Another firing of the Fregat upper stage motor is still to come. That burn will send Mars Express out of its current orbit around Earth for the six-and-a-half-month trek to Mars.

1759 GMT (1:59 p.m. EDT)

ESA officials in mission control report Mars Express has arrived in its parking orbit around Earth, following the first burn of the Fregat. The next event will occur in about an hour when the Fregat re-starts to boost Mars Express on its trajectory to the Red Planet.

1755 GMT (1:55 p.m. EDT)

The third stage should have completed its firing and separated from the Fregat by now. However, ESA has not announced that yet.

1752 GMT (1:52 p.m. EDT)

ESA says all parameters are normal as the launch continues on the third stage.

1751 GMT (1:51 p.m. EDT)

The second stage has shut down and separated. The vehicle is now flying on the power of the Soyuz third stage.

1748 GMT (1:48 p.m. EDT)

The second stage is firing as Mars Express continues to streak into the night sky.

1748 GMT (1:48 p.m. EDT)

The four strap-on boosters have burned out and separated from the core stage.

1747 GMT (1:47 p.m. EDT)

Plus+2 minutes. European Space Agency officials report the flight of Soyuz is progressing normally.

1745 GMT (1:45 p.m. EDT)

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of Mars Express and the Beagle 2 lander as Europe begins its first expeditions to the Red Planet!

1744 GMT (1:44 p.m. EDT)

One minute.

1739 GMT (1:39 p.m. EDT)

Six minutes are left until launch. ESA says all systems appear "go" for launch.

1725 GMT (1:25 p.m. EDT)

The countdown is entering the final 20 minutes to launch of Soyuz-Fregat with Mars Express for the European Space Agency. There are no reports of problems as the liftoff time approaches.

1717 GMT (1:17 p.m. EDT)

The launch pad service structure around the Soyuz rocket is being lowered away from vehicle, according to ESA's broadcast from Baikonur. The rocket is bathed in bright lights as it awaits liftoff from Central Asia.

1700 GMT (1:00 p.m. EDT)

Following today's liftoff from the historic Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the three stages of the Soyuz rocket will fire during the first 8 minutes, 49 seconds of the flight. The Fregat upper stage, carrying the Mars Express payload, separates from the Soyuz third stage while still on a sub-orbital trajectory. The Fregat then ignites for its first engine burn of the day, achieving a circular parking orbit 190 km above Earth.

After a coast period around the planet lasting about an hour, the upper stage is re-ignited to propel Mars Express on an escape path for its cruise to the Red Planet. Deployment of the spacecraft from the rocket booster will occur approximately 92 minutes after launch.

The target orbital parameters at the point of spacecraft separation include a minimum altitude of 341 km, orbital inclination of 51.8 degrees and escape velocity of 2.95 km/s.

1615 GMT (12:15 p.m. EDT)

Launch time is now 90 minutes away for Mars Express and the Beagle 2 lander.

Today's launch will mark the 11th Soyuz rocket flight under the auspices of Starsem, a joint European and Russian venture that markets the Soyuz. It's also the fifth flight of the Soyuz version using the Fregat upper stage. The last two Starsem Soyuz missions in 2000 successfully launched two pairs of Cluster-2 spacecraft for ESA.

SUNDAY, JUNE 1, 2003

The Russian Soyuz rocket -- topped with the Mars Express spacecraft -- stands on the launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for Monday's 1745 GMT (1:45 p.m. EDT) liftoff.

The final countdown begins at T-minus 8 hours as systems checks on the Soyuz booster start. Three hours later, checks of the launch vehicle's Fregat upper stage begin. A review is held at T-minus 4 hours, 20 minutes to verify all is in readiness for fueling the rocket. If there are no problems, loading of propellant should commence at T-minus 4 hours.

Standard countdown activities will continue over the next few hours. In the final half-hour, the service platform around the rocket will be removed for launch.

The rocket's fuel tanks will be pressurized at T-minus 2 minutes, 35 seconds. The vehicle switches to internal power for flight at T-minus 45 seconds. The strap-on boosters and the core stage engines are ignited at T-minus 20 seconds, building up thrust for liftoff at T-minus 0 seconds.

It will take about 92 minutes from launch through deployment of Mars Express from the upper stage for the journey to the Red Planet.

Watch this page for confirmation of liftoff!


An unprecedented international scientific assault on Earth's cosmic neighbor will be launched in June as four spacecraft are fired to Mars, beginning Monday with Europe's first mission to the Red Planet. Read our full story.

The Beagle has landed...Well, not quite but the innovative Beagle 2 will soon be on its way to Mars aboard European Space Agency's Mars Express. Once at the Red Planet, it may turn up evidence of past or present life. Read our full story.