Mars Beagle a “Near Success”

Photo Credit: Kevin Gill (flickr)

by Joshua Green

The year was 2003. The Iraq war commenced, the Concorde maked its final flights, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected to office as Governor of California and the Beagle 2 was making its decent to the barren surface of Mars. Beagle 2 was the name of the lander of which was a British project led by Professor Colin Pillinger (launched by the European Space Agency) that sought to see whether there was life on Mars. The lander was meant to make contact with the surface of Mars on the 25th of December, however, no contact was made with Beagle 2. On the 6th of February 2004 the Beagle 2 was declared lost and the mission deemed a failure.

The year is now 2016 and has been perhaps not a great year for many. If, however, you are just a fan of space exploration, or you will take any silver lining, then there is some consolidation over the fate of Beagle 2. New analysis of Beagle 2 images suggest that not only did the lander land successfully on the surface of Mars but also that it was partially operational months after the landing.

In 2005 Beagle 2 was found to be ‘intact’ on the surface of Mars via images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Professor Mark Sims, from the University of Leicester, commissioned a survey into the ultimate fate of the lander and found that not only did the Beagle 2 land but that it deployed three of it’s four solar panels and potentially was able to collect data.

The analysis conducted involved simulating possible outcomes for the lander. The technique simulated the outcomes by working out the possible landing configurations, on the surface of Mars. Then by using the images taken by NASA’s orbiter the sunlight the reflected off the lander was used to work out the ideal model of what occurred. It was determined by this technique that three out of four of the solar panels were open and that, possibly, the fourth panel blocked communication kit used to beam back information that the lander had gathered.

Dr Manish Patel, who was one of the many scientists who worked on the Beagle 2 project, agrees with this analysis along with UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory’s Professor Jan-Peter Muller who was not associated with the Beagle 2 mission. People have commented on the somewhat closure that these findings bring. Professor Sims said to the BBC that “we succeeded in so many elements. It is a great pity the communications didn’t work and we didn’t get the science back.” Patel added that he was “incredibly frustrated” but “incredibly proud” and gave some heartwarming words about how “in every failure there is a success hidden somewhere that teaches us and motivates us. This is a perfect example.” Wise words to give for space exploration missions many would say; exploring the final frontier fails at times but motivation drives us further into the exciting unknown.

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