If you’re travelling on Europe’s roads this year, you may spot a very
large vehicle (5m long and 3.5m wide), bearing the Mars Express logo. It
will be making slow progress and will be accompanied by a police escort.
Inside the clean, air-conditioned environment will be the Mars Express
spacecraft in transit between industrial contractors in Switzerland, the
UK, Italy or France.

Organising such transport is no mean task, as each European country has
different regulations concerning the movement of oversize vehicles. Some,
for example, forbid movement at weekends, some allow it during daylight
only and one, Germany, during night-time only. Police escorts have to
be changed at national borders.

Despite these logistical difficulties, the trailer completed its first
journey last week when it successfully delivered the spacecraft structure
to Astrium, Stevenage, UK after a two-day journey from Contraves, Zurich,
Switzerland. On each successive journey, Mars Express will be nearer its
final flight configuration as parts are added or tested at the various

Alistair Scott, a spokesman for Astrium, UK, was in Stevenage last week
to meet the trailer. “We lifted the box containing the spacecraft off
the lorry and then started to prepare it for entry to our clean room.
We moved it in later that day and unboxed it the following morning.
It’s really exciting to be working on Europe’s first mission to Mars,”
he says.

Mars Express will remain in Astrium’s clean room whilst the propulsion
system is fitted and tested. Then, sometime in July, it will be loaded
onto the trailer again for transport to Alenia, Turin, Italy where
dummies of all the other units will be added. A month later, it will
travel to Intespace, Toulouse, France for mechanical testing. Then in
October, it will be back to Alenia, Turin again where the dummies
will be dismounted in preparation for integration of the final flight

In the meantime, development and testing of the flight units is
proceeding according to plan at Astrium’s electrical test bench in
Toulouse, France. The test bench went into operation last summer (see
Mars Express comes alive) to ensure that all the sub-systems and
scientific instruments are electrically compatible. First, the on-board
computer was tested, then the remote terminal units and other systems
and finally the scientific instruments. Only three of the scientific
instruments remain to be tested.

The electrical and structural model tests should also be completed in
October 2001. The next stage will be to integrate flight models of all
instruments and sub-systems with the spacecraft and then test the
complete system during 2002.


* More about Mars Express


* Mars Express comes alive



[Image 1:
Mars Express leaves the port of Ramsgate, England, after its trans-
European journay from Switzerland.

[Image 2:
On the way to Stevenage. Mars Express continues its journey by motorway.

[Image 3:
Staff at Astrium, Stevenage prepare to unload Mars Express after it has
completed its journey from Switzerland.