20 years of Mars Express: Watch the first-ever livestream from Mars today

This means it won't be truly live, but a new image will appear every 50 seconds for the duration of the hour. 
Mrigakshi Dixit
Artist's impression of Mars Express.
Artist's impression of Mars Express.

ESA/ATG medialab; Mars: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin 

The European Space Agency(ESA) has decided to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its Mars Express orbiter, in a distinct manner.

The red planet will make its live-streaming debut on Friday, June 2. For an hour beginning at 6pm Central European Time, you can watch your rusty celestial neighbor like never before on ESA's YouTube channel. 

Though some glitches are possible due to the spacecraft's distance of nearly three million kilometers from Earth. 

In a press release, the ESA’s mission control team said that they're not "100% certain it’ll work.” 

James Godfrey, Spacecraft Operations Manager at ESA’s mission control center in Darmstadt, Germany, added: “But I’m pretty optimistic. Normally, we see images from Mars and know that they were taken days before. I’m excited to see Mars as it is now – as close to a Martian ‘now’ as we can possibly get!’"

Images every 50 seconds

The ESA's Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) onboard the orbiter will return "first to see new pictures roughly every 50 seconds" from the planet. 

This means it won't be truly live, but a new image will appear every 50 seconds during the hour. 

We frequently see science data and observations taken by a spacecraft or rover when they are not in direct contact with an Earth-based ground station antenna.

Typically, images are stored on board and sent hours, days, or even weeks later, once the spacecraft regains contact with the ground. “What normally happens for the Visual Monitoring Camera on Mars Express, is every couple of days a new batch are ‘downlinked’, processed and made available to the world,” the ESA added. 

Technically, it takes about three to 22 minutes for images to beam back depending on the position of Mars and Earth in orbit around the Sun. And all of those images are processed and enhanced in appearance. As a result, seeing direct images is rather rare. 

Surprisingly, only a few missions in history have used live streaming, mainly DART and LCROSS, which deliberately collided with asteroid Dimorphos and the Moon, respectively. Even some Apollo missions returned spectacular live videos of astronauts hopping on the lunar surface. 

20 years in service: Mars Webcam 

The Mars Webcam, launched 20 years ago, was primarily responsible for monitoring the step-by-step separation of the Beagle 2 lander from the Mars Express spacecraft.

The camera was turned off after it successfully completed this task and reported the initial data. However, the VMC was turned back in 2007 to be used for science and outreach activities. 

“We developed new, more sophisticated methods of operations and image processing, to get better results from the camera, turning it into Mars Express’s 8th science instrument,” said Jorge Hernández Bernal, part of the VMC team. 

In its nearly two decades in service, the camera has taken a plethora of images of the Martian landscape, and even obtained evidence of underground aquifers on Mars.

Bernal added: “From these images, we discovered a great deal, including the evolution of a rare elongated cloud formation hovering above one of Mars’ most famous volcanoes – the 20 km-high Arsia Mons.”

We could never have imagined seeing a live view of Mars in the past. The 21st century, on the other hand, is all about innovation and making the impossible possible. 

Following this exciting announcement, we are now eagerly waiting to see how the first-ever live Mars show rolls out.

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