Space

Beagle-2 spacecraft discovered on Martian surface

Beagle-2 spacecraft discovered...
Artist's impression of the Beagle-2 spacecraft fully deployed on the surface of Mars (Image: ESA, Denman Productions)
Artist's impression of the Beagle-2 spacecraft fully deployed on the surface of Mars (Image: ESA, Denman Productions)
View 3 Images
Artist's impression of the Beagle-2 spacecraft fully deployed on the surface of Mars (Image: ESA, Denman Productions)
1/3
Artist's impression of the Beagle-2 spacecraft fully deployed on the surface of Mars (Image: ESA, Denman Productions)
Image captured from the MRO showing the site of debris and the Beagle-2 lander itself (Image: University of Leicester, Beagle 2, NASA, JPL, University of Arizona)
2/3
Image captured from the MRO showing the site of debris and the Beagle-2 lander itself (Image: University of Leicester, Beagle 2, NASA, JPL, University of Arizona)
Image taken from the MRO depicting the final resting place of the Beagle-2 spacecraft (Image: HIRISE, NASA, University of Leicester)
3/3
Image taken from the MRO depicting the final resting place of the Beagle-2 spacecraft (Image: HIRISE, NASA, University of Leicester)
View gallery - 3 images

Lost since 2003, the UK-led Beagle-2 Mars lander has finally been discovered on the Martian surface by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Analysis of the images revealed that the lander survived its Dec. 25, 2003 touchdown, partially deploying on the surface of the Red Planet. No signal was received from the lander following its expected landing time, and the robotic explorer was feared destroyed.

Beagle-2 was launched on the June 2, 2003, hitching a ride with ESA's Mars Express mission with a mandate to detect clues as to the presence of life on the Martian surface. The lander (along with other debris believed to be related to the spacecraft's descent process) was found within the expected landing area for the probe, an impact crater designated Isidis Planitia, near to the Martian equator. This further strengthened the case that the images were indeed shots of the final resting site of the Beagle-2.

"We are very happy to learn that Beagle-2 touched down on Mars," states Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. "The dedication of the various teams in studying high-resolution images in order to find the lander is inspiring."

Image captured from the MRO showing the site of debris and the Beagle-2 lander itself (Image: University of Leicester, Beagle 2, NASA, JPL, University of Arizona)
Image captured from the MRO showing the site of debris and the Beagle-2 lander itself (Image: University of Leicester, Beagle 2, NASA, JPL, University of Arizona)

Three sets of images captured by the high-resolution camera mounted aboard NASA's MRO suggest that the Beagle-2 successfully executed its atmospheric entry, descent and landing procedure, coming to rest gently on the surface of the Red Planet. At only 7 ft (2.1 m) across, detection of the failed robotic explorer pushed the high-res camera to the edge of its capabilities. Analysis of the images suggest that the lander's drogue chute is still attached to the lifeless explorer, and that the lander was able to open one to three of its four solar panels.

The lander's inability to deploy all of its solar panels explains why it was unable to communicate upon reaching the surface of the Red Planet. The design of Beagle-2 required full deployment in order to uncover the radio antenna needed to transmit a response to mission controllers back on Earth.

Whilst there is no chance of fixing the long-dead spacecraft, Beagle-2's designers, engineers and the many thousands of people who waited on Christmas Day for a signal from the robotic pioneer will hopefully feel a sense of closure in the knowledge of its final resting place.

Source: ESA

View gallery - 3 images
6 comments
christopher
The picture (artists) does not match this: "required full deployment in order to uncover the radio" - no panels at all would deploy until the cover is open, and it was the cover blocking the radio - not the solar panels. Maybe the real reason: it required the full power of all 4 solar panels to be able to transmit?
Mike Lee
Wow, 3 pixels on a grainy image == success of the mission? They must be really desperate to justify wasting £50 million of taxpayers' money. Fail.
BZD
@Mike Lee You need to look at the big picture. Exploring isn't done because it is easy and therefor complete success in every endeavor is not a guarantee, however the efforts being made aren't wasted even if the mission goals aren't met. Much of the effort spend also returns knowledge on it's own and there is huge benefit to all of us from technology being pushed to the limits. If every undertaking ever was only perused if success was guaranteed then a few humans might live in a cave somewhere, but more likely we as a race would be long gone since without taking chances we would never have learned to use fire, hunt or even discover what safe to eat and what not.
Gary Fisher
Well said, BZD. While much has been learned in over a decade since Beagle landed, we can glean a great deal of information by analyzing just how that mission failed.
StWils
Every so often some people have whined about the immense amount of money wasted by NASA. And every so often repeated and careful economic analyses of the economic impact of NASA's R & D have shown that the return on these investments has been billions of dollars greater than the cost. Whole industries exist because of this R & D. While it is unfortunate that failures occur something useful is learned every time. Maybe sometime soon a team will send a 'bot to walk over to the Beagle and flip the "On" switch, just for nostalgia's sake. If so, we will all have learned many useful things in order to get that 'bot to that spot.
Nik
From the description, it seems that the basic design concept was flawed. Everything had to work perfectly, in sequence, with no redundancies or back up alternatives. The solar panels deployment in four operations, and without successful completion, nothing else could function? Very optimistic!