Preparations for launching Mars-Express spacecraft from Baikonur nearing completion

At the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan final touches are being put before the Mars-Express spacecraft of the European Space Agency /ESA/ is launched, the Rosaviakosmos press-service reported.

At the moment workers in the vehicle assembly building of the cosmodrome are putting together the head part of the spacecraft, to be linked up with Russia's Fregat boost section. Shortly the bloc will be attached to a Russia Soyuz-FG carrier rocket, and the entire complex will be moved to the launch pad.

Mars-Express project leader Rudi Schmidt told Rosaviakosmos from Baikonur that launch preparations are proceeding without "any problems". The work, according to him, is proceeding ahead of schedule. This, Schmidt noted, "enabled us to review the launch date." Now it has been set for June 2, while the initial deadline was June 6.

Schmidt also said that the creation and development of the Mars-Express craft, intended to work two years, has cost ESA 300 million euros. Among its developers were also Russian scientists from the Institute of Space Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

It is planned that after launching, Mars-Express is to reach the Martian orbit in half a year, following which it will jettison the Beagle-2 Mars lander to explore the soil and environment of that planet.

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