Images to reveal Beagle 2’s fate

Published: Friday 16th January 2015 by The News Editor

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Images showing that the British Beagle 2 space probe landed successfully on Mars 12 years ago are set to be revealed, a scientists who worked on the project has said.

David Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at the Open University, said he believed pictures will be published today proving that the spacecraft’s lander successfully touched down on the Red Planet in 2003 but that a malfunction prevented it from beaming information back to Earth.

The UK Space Agency says it will provide an “update” on the ill-fated craft, which vanished while attempting a Christmas Day landing on the planet, but will not discuss in advance what will be revealed.

Prof Rothery said he expected the pictures, which he has not yet seen, will show the probe “partially deployed” after landing successfully. The lander resembled a giant pocket watch that folded out to deploy its instruments and solar panels.

He said: “What I think we are going to have revealed tomorrow is pictures showing Beagle 2 on the ground, what is thought to be Beagle 2 on the ground.

“It looks like they (the panels) didn’t all open.”

He added: “I regard it as being more successful than we perhaps though 12 years ago when we lost it.

“It would be nice to know if it landed close to where we think it did.”

Named in honour of Charles Darwin’s famous ship, Beagle 2 was a unique space mission in that it was largely funded by private donations and money raised by promotional campaigns led by the late Professor Colin Pillinger.

The probe was carried by the Mars Express spacecraft, which was blasted into pace by a Russian rocket from Kazakhstan in June 2003.

The mission’s call-sign was composed by the Britpop band Blur, and the “test card” used to calibrate the probe’s cameras and spectrometer instruments after the landing was painted by Damien Hirst.

It was scheduled to put down in a near-equatorial region of Mars known as Isidis Planitia on December 26. But after detaching from the Mars Express and heading for the surface it was not heard from again.

Despite its small size and shoestring cost Beagle 2 contained some sophisticated hardware.

Elements of its miniaturised technology will be employed on ExoMars, the European rover that will be sent to Mars to search for signs of life in 2018.

Professor Andrew Coates, who worked on Beagle 2 and now works on ExoMars, said that if Beagle was shown to have landed successfully it would be “an important moment in space exploration” and would provide closure for the team that worked on it.

Physicist Prof Coates, who works at University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Surrey, said: “We were always wondering what happened with Beagle. The difficulty was that we had no information.

“The last we saw of it was December 19, that was when it separated from the Mars Express. We had a great party which showed the image of Beagle 2 leaving and going in the right direction to its landing. The next we had expected to hear from it was on Christmas Day morning after a successful landing.

“If there is an image of Beagle on the surface it will tell us so much more than we know already.”

Published: Friday 16th January 2015 by The News Editor

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