eagle 2 spacecraft found intact on surface of Mars after 11 years
British Beagle 2 probe had not been seen or heard from since December 2003 and had been presumed destroyed
Speaking at the Royal Society in London on Friday, David Parker of the UK Space Agency,said there was good evidence that Beagle 2 had landed safely and partially deployed its solar arrays.
Saturday 17 January 2015 04.36 ESTSo near and yet so far. New images show that the UK’s Beagle 2 successfully landed on the surface of Mars in 2003 but failed to fully deploy its solar panels. Without these, it could not communicate with Earth and scientists lost contact.
The discovery images come from the HiRISE camera on Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They show a bright shape that looks like the lander with some of its solar panels deployed.
The pictures are not yet sharp enough to tell exactly how many of Beagle 2’s four panels unfolded. More images are currently being planned to help work out what happened. The final panel would have uncovered the radio antenna, allowing the spacecraft to make contact.
The Beagle 2 probe spotted on Mars. Facebook Twitter Pinterest
The Beagle 2 probe spotted on Mars. Photograph: UK Space Agency/PA
A sequence of images, covering a billion pixels, also show what could be the parachute and the rear cover, which appear to have been jettisoned correctly during the descent.
It had been thought that the spacecraft crashed on the surface of Mars due to a failure of the entry, descent and landing system. The new images show that was not the case.
“We are not looking at a crash site,” said David Parker, of the UK Space Agency. “We have good evidence of Beagle 2 resting on the surface of Mars. These images are consistent with the Beagle 2 having successfully landed on Mars but then only partially deploying itself.”
Beagle 2 was launched in 2003 onboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft. It was designed to land on the planet’s surface on Christmas Day that year but following ejection from Mars Express it was never heard from again. Mars Express continues to orbit and study Mars to this day.
Images from Beagle 2 on Mars released by the UK Space Agency on 16 January 2015 Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Beagle 2, its rear cover and possibly one of its parachutes imaged by the HiRise camera on Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Photograph: University of Leicester/Nasa/JPL
First hints that Beagle 2 had been found came in 2013 when scientists saw something glinting on the surface of Mars in the area where Beagle 2 was supposed to have landed.
By November, Mark Simms, from the University of Leicester, Beagle 2’s mission manager, said the team were becoming quite excited that they had found the long-lost spacecraft.
Beagle 2 cost around £50m. It was comparatively cheap for a space mission, with some industrial work being performed on a cost-only basis. Other work was given for free. “People wanted to buy into the mission,” said Simms.
Video showing what was supposed to have happened when Beagle 2 reached Mars back in 2003
It was the brainchild of the Open University professor Colin Pillinger, who tirelessly rallied support and a shoestring budget for the mission, becoming a familiar face in the British media at the time. Pilinger died in May last year without knowing what had happened to his pride and joy.
“He would have been elated and frustrated, as I am, to have got so close. This discovery is tinged with sadness because Colin doesn’t know,” said Simms.
Alvaro Giménez, the ESA’s director of science and robotic exploration, said: “I cannot express how overjoyed we are that Beagle 2 made it to the surface. This vindicates the engineering teams approach to landing on Mars.”
Beagle 2 was running on battery power during its descent and for the first phase of operations on the planet’s surface. This means that it would have recorded some scientific data to its onboard memory.
“There is every chance that the camera flipped up and began taking images after the landing. All we need is an astronaut and a USB stick to go and get them,” joked Andrew Coates, of Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London, who was the lead investigator on Beagle 2’s stereo camera system,
The experiences learned from Beagle 2 are being used on the next ESA’s Mars mission, ExoMars, which launches next year. Upon arrival at Mars it will test a new entry, descent and landing system, designed in part from the lessons learned from the original investigation into Beagle 2’s disappearance.
“Beagle 2 trained a generation of scientists and engineers in planetary science and engineering,” said Sims.
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