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Launch Vehicle

What is a Launch Vehicle?

A launch vehicle provides the velocity needed by a spacecraft to escape Earth's gravity and set it on its course for Mars. In June 2003, Mars Express will launch from the Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan on board a Soyuz Fregat Launch Vehicle.

For more information on what will happen during launch, see the
Launch section in the Mission Timeline.

Details on the Launch Vehicle

The Soyuz rocket was first launched in November 1963 and has since flown more than 1,500 times. A manned version carries crews to the International Space Station, while an unmanned version is used to launch satellites and Progress cargo craft. It is one of the most reliable launch vehicles in the world, with a 98% success rate.

The Soyuz launch vehicle typically has three stages:

Stage 1 four conical boosters grouped around the central core stage
Stage 2 a cylindrical core
Stage 3 an upper stage with a payload adapter and fairings (the protective shells that protect the spacecraft during launch)

The launch vehicle for Mars Express will also have:

Stage 4 an additional fourth stage called Fregat that will place the spacecraft on the proper trajectory for its journey to Mars

The first three stages use liquid oxygen and kerosene fuel. The Fregat uses Hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide as fuel. It is capable of up to 12 restarts.

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