The Deep Space Ground Station at New Norcia, 150-kilometres north of Perth, , is the main receiving centre for communication between the space craft and mission control in Germany.

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The New Norcia base will also be central in receiving the first pictures once the space craft begins orbiting Mars around Christmas Day this year.

The Mars Express blasted off from Kazakhstan in central Asia early today on a mission the Agency hopes will prove the existence of water and life on the red planet.

ESA spokesman, Gunter Wittig, who is in New Norcia to oversee operations in the early launch phase, says the base is the key communications base for the mission.

“For this mission, this station is the prime station during the whole mission, and can support 99-percent of all the tasks what is required for this mission.”

The United States and Japan each have Mars missions about to be launched and all three spacecraft will arrive at about the same time, when the orbit of Mars brings it closer to Earth.

Mr Wittig says scientists hope to find evidence of life by taking soil samples.

“They have good hope to find life, especially from the past which they hope to detect by measuring, with the Beagle with the Lander, and analysing samples from the ground and they can say is it organic, coming from organic life or not.”

The landing craft on Mars will keep transmitting data back to Earth for about six months, while the orbiting Mars Express will continue its probe for one Martian year, which is equivalent to nearly two Earth years.

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