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Beagle 2

Beagle 2 is a landing spacecraft that forms part of the European Space Agency's 2003 Mars Express mission.

Table of contents
1 Background
2 Spacecraft and subsystems
3 Mission profile
4 Mission progress
5 External links


Beagle 2 was conceived, designed and built by a group of British academics headed by Professor Colin Pillinger of the Open University, in collaboration with the University of Leicester. Its purpose is to search for signs of Martian life, past or present, and its name reflects this goal, as Professor Pillinger explained:

"HMS Beagle was the ship that took Darwin on his voyage around the world in the 1830s and led to our knowledge about life on Earth making a real quantum leap. We hope Beagle 2 will do the same thing for life on Mars."

Mars Express launched from Baikonur at 17:45 UTC (18:45 BST) on 2 June 2003. The Beagle 2 is a Mars lander initially mounted on the top deck of the Mars Express Orbiter. It was released from the Orbiter on December 19, 2003 and was expected to land on Mars on December 25 at 02:54 UTC. A point at 10.6°N, 270°W in Isidis Planitia, a large flat sedimentary basin that overlies the boundary between the ancient highlands and the northern plains of Mars, was chosen as the landing site.

The lander was expected to operate for about 180 days and an extended mission of up to one Martian year (687 Earth days) is possible. The Beagle 2 lander objectives are to characterize the landing site geology, mineralogy, geochemistry and oxidation state, the physical properties of the atmosphere and surface layers, collect data on Martian meteorology and climatology, and search for possible signatures of life.

In an effort to publicise the project and gain financial support, its designers sought and received the endorsement and participation of British artists. The mission's call-sign was composed by the band Blur, and the test card that will be used to calibrate Beagle 2's cameras after landing was painted by Damien Hirst.

The Lander Operations Control Centre (LOCC) at the National Space Centre in Leicester, from which the spacecraft is being controlled, is open to the public.

Spacecraft and subsystems

Beagle 2 has a robotic arm known as the Payload Adjustable Workbench (PAW), that will be extended after landing. The PAW contains a pair of stereo cameras, a microscope, a Mössbauer spectrometer, an X-ray spectrometer, a drill for collecting rock samples and a spotlamp. Rock samples will be passed by the PAW into a mass spectrometer and gas chromatographer in the body of the lander, which will be used to measure the relative proportions of different isotopes of carbon. Since carbon is thought to be the basis of all life, these readings could reveal whether the sample contains the remnants of living organisms.

In addition, it is equipped with a small "mole" (Planetary Undersurface Tool, or PLUTO) which can be deployed by the arm and is capable of moving across the surface at a rate of about 1 cm every 5 seconds using a compressed spring mechanism. This mechanism can also allow the mole to burrow into the ground and collect a subsurface sample in a cavity in its tip. The mole is attached to the lander by a power cable which can be used as a winch to bring the sample back to the lander.

The robot arm is equipped with a grinder and corer, a device to collect a core sample from inside any rocks within reach of the robot arm. The lander has the shape of a shallow bowl with a diameter of 0.65 m and a depth of 0.25 m. The cover of the lander is hinged and folds open to reveal the interior of the craft which holds a UHF antenna, the 0.75 m long robot arm, and the scientific equipment. The main body also contains the battery, telecommunications, electronics, and central processor, and the heaters. The lid itself further unfolds to expose four disk-shaped solar arrays. The lander package has a mass of 69 kg at launch but the actual lander is only 33.2 kg at touchdown.

Mission profile

Beagle 2 was launched with the Mars Express orbiter and was released on a ballistic trajectory towards Mars on 19 December 2003 at 8:31 UT. Beagle 2 coasted for five days after release and entered the martian atmosphere at over 20,000 km/hr on the morning of 25 December. After initial deceleration in the Martian atmosphere from simple friction, parachutes will be deployed and about 1 km above the surface large airbags will inflate around the lander and protect it when it hits the surface. Landing is expected to occur at about 02:45 UT on 25 December (9:45 p.m. EST 24 December). After landing the bags will deflate and the top of the lander will open. The top will unfold to expose the four solar array disks. Within the body of the lander a UHF antenna will be deployed. A signal will be sent to Mars Express after landing and another the next (local) morning to confirm that Beagle 2 survived the landing and the first night on Mars. A panoramic image of the landing area will be taken using the stereo camera and a pop-up mirror, after which the lander arm will be released. The lander arm will dig up samples to be deposited in the various instruments for study, and the "mole" will be deployed, crawling across the surface to a distance of about three meters from the lander and capable of burrowing under rocks to collect soil samples for analysis.

Beagle 2 cost roughly £40 million ($57 to $65 million U.S.).

Mission progress

Although the Beagle 2 craft successfully deployed from the Mars Express "mothership", confirmation of a successful landing was not forthcoming. Confirmation should have come on December 25, 2003, when the Beagle 2 should have contacted NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft that was already in orbit. In the following days, the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank also failed to pick up a signal from Beagle 2. The team said they were "still hopeful" of finding a successful return signal.

Attempts will be made throughout January and February of 2004 to contact Beagle 2 using Mars Express. The first of these occurred on January 7th 2004, but ended in failure. Although regular calls will be made, particular hope is placed on communication occurring on the 12th January, when Beagle 2 was pre-programmed to expect the Mars Express probe to fly overhead, and on the 2nd February, when the probe will resort to the last communication back-up mode: Autotransmit.

On December 31, 2003, it was reported that a crater was photographed in the center of the target landing site. It is possible that this could be the final resting place of Beagle 2, the craft unable to transmit from the shadow of the crater walls.

External links