A live video feed will be broadcast from Mars for the first time beginning at 1600 UTC today, using a once-obsolete camera aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express Orbiter.
ESA’s feed, embedded above, will last for an hour. However, because of the vast distance between Earth and Mars, the images will take 17 minutes to reach us, and a further minute to pass through various receivers and servers on the ground, making it not quite “live”.
The orbiter’s Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) will transmit a new frame every 50 seconds. This camera normally stores the images it takes and transmits them in a batch every couple of days, so this is the first time ESA is attempting to stream them as they are taken.
The event has been put on to mark the 20th birthday of ESA’s Mars Express, the mission that placed the Mars Express Orbiter in orbit around the planet and deployed the ill-fated Beagle 2 lander.
Despite the failure of Beagle 2 to ever communicate with Earth after reaching the surface, the orbiter became Europe’s first mission to another planet and continues to operate today in an elliptical orbit of between around 300 and 10,000 kilometres.
James Godfrey at ESA said in a statement that there is no guarantee that the stream will go according to plan. “This is an old camera, originally planned for engineering purposes, at a distance of almost three million kilometres from Earth – this hasn’t been tried before and to be honest, we’re not 100% certain it’ll work.”
The VMC was originally designed to monitor the separation of the Beagle 2 lander and had been turned off after launch. But it was turned back on for science and outreach reasons in 2007 after more sophisticated image-processing techniques were developed that made the relatively simple camera useful once again.