Stevenage-built Beagle 2 lander found on Mars by NASA camera after 10-year search

The Beagle 2 has been found after a 10-year search. Credit: UK Government

The Beagle 2 has been found after a 10-year search. Credit: UK Government - Credit: Archant

A space lander which went missing on its descent to Mars more than a decade ago and was declared lost, has finally been found.

The Beagle 2 Mars lander, which was built at Airbus Defence and Space on Gunnels Wood Road in Stevenage, has been found partially deployed on the surface of the Red Planet by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars reconnaissance orbiter.

It was launched as part of the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission and was deployed from the spacecraft on Christmas Day 2003. During its descent to the planet it went missing – prompting the 10-year search by the ESA.

The images prove that the lander successfully touched down near to the planet’s equator and managed to deploy some of its equipment.

It was essential that on landing all the solar panels opened, exposing its antenna, and allowing data and commands to be transmitted between Earth and the machine.

This may have been the reason why it lost contact but this is impossible to verify and, because it has now lost all power, scientists cannot recover any data it picked up.

Professor Mark Sims from the University of Leicester was an integral part of the project. He said: “I am delighted that Beagle 2 has finally been found on Mars. Every Christmas Day since 2003 I have wondered what happened to Beagle 2. My Christmas Day in 2003 alongside many others who worked on Beagle 2 was ruined by the disappointment of not receiving data from the surface of Mars. To be frank I had all but given up hope of ever knowing what happened to Beagle 2.

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“The images show that we came so close to achieving the goal of science on Mars. The images vindicate the hard work put in by many people and companies both here in the UK and around Europe and the world in building Beagle 2. The highly complex entry, descent and landing sequence seems to have worked perfectly and only during the final phases of deployment did Beagle 2 unfortunately run into problems.

“I view it as a great achievement that the team built Beagle 2 in a little over four years and successfully landed it on the surface of Mars. It was a great pity we couldn’t have delivered the world class science Beagle 2 may have brought and even sadder that Colin Pillinger and other colleagues who died in 2014 didn’t live to see the discovery that Beagle 2 made it to Mars. Beagle 2 showed the fantastic innovation skills available from UK academia and industry and inspired many people in particular the young.”

A spokesman for Airbus said: “This looks like great news as this seems to prove Beagle 2 got to Mars. Unfortunately we are no nearer to knowing exactly what happened, and possibly never will. Space is hard – Mars missions have about a 60 per cent success rate.

“And this was a brave attempt to do a low-cost mission which, according to these latest images, very nearly succeeded. We should also remember that it generated a huge amount of interest in space at the time and inspired many young people to choose space as their career, many of whom now work for us in the UK.”

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