Mars Express christens new space antenna with red planet pics

NASA's Curiosity rover may be getting us close-up to Mars, but the European Space Agency's Mars Express probe has a far more macro perspective as it beams back the first shots to be received at the new Malargüe space tracking station. Powered up earlier this month, the ultra-sensitive radio antenna funneled back shots from the Mars Express' Visual Monitoring Camera showing the red planet from over 6,000 miles away.

Mars Express was launched back in 2003, and was intended to deliver the Beagle 2 rover to the surface of the planet. That part of the mission failed; however, the orbiter section has continued to take high-resolution shots of Mars and has seen its operation extended until 2014.

The ESA Malargüe station stands forty meters tall, with the antenna section along weighing in at 610 tonnes and able to track ongoing missions at both Mars and Venus. It will also be used for radio science experiments, such as trying to identify the different types of matter transmissions pass through.

It is located 1500m high in Argentinia, and features a 20 kW amplifier to send instructions all the way to Jupiter and beyond. In contrast, a typical cellphone has a 125 milliwatt amplifier. The dish was able to receive the Mars Express' photos sent from 327 million kilometres away in just over 18 minutes.

Routine service of the antenna will begin early in 2013.

[via NBC News]