A European spacecraft orbiting Mars sent its first live broadcast from the Red Planet back to Earth on Friday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its launch, but rain in Spain interfered at times.
The European Space Agency broadcast live with views from the Mars Express site, which was launched by a Russian rocket from Kazakhstan in 2003.
It took approximately 17 minutes for each image to reach Earth, and nearly 200 million miles (300 million km), and another minute for it to reach ground stations.
Transmissions are sometimes disrupted by rainy weather at the Deep Teleportation Antenna in Spain.
However, enough images have emerged to delight European space officials hosting the hour-long live broadcast. Initial viewings showed about a third of Mars, which gradually grew in frames before shrinking again as the spacecraft orbited the planet. White clouds can be clearly seen in some of the shots.
“If you were currently sitting aboard Mars Express … this is what you would see,” said Simon Wood, the mission’s spacecraft operations engineer. “Normally we don’t get pictures that way.”
The images and other data are usually stored on the spacecraft and later transmitted to Earth, according to Wood, when the spacecraft antenna can be pointed that way.
According to the European Space Agency, close-up real-time footage from far away is “rather rare.” The agency referred to the live broadcasts made by the Apollo astronauts more than half a century ago, and more recently, live excerpts from a spacecraft that deliberately collided with the moon and an asteroid.
“All of these missions have been very close to home, and others farther back have sent back perhaps an image or two in near real time. When it comes to long live broadcasts from deep space, this is a first,” the European Space Agency said in a statement ahead of the event. .
The rain on the plains in Spain interrupted the number of photos shown. The European Space Agency allotted only one hour for the live broadcast because it did not want to overload the spacecraft’s batteries.
The Mars Express traveled to the Red Planet with a lander dubbed Beagle-2, which lost contact with Earth while trying to land on Mars.
More than a decade later, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured images of Beagle 2. Although it reached the surface, the lander’s solar panels had not fully unfolded.
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