Beagle-2 found on Mars!

The long lost probe landed safely, but then failed to deploy properly. 

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NASAs MRO showed the parachute and rear cover were deployed as planned

Credit: NASA


By Matt Atherton

Beagle-2, the UK led interplanetary robot, has been found on the surface of Mars after 12 years of radio silence.

High-resolution images taken by the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), released on 16 January 2015, seem to show the Beagle-2 robot on the Martian surface, albeit without being fully deployed.

Only two of the three antennae “petals” were deployed from the probe, meaning that no radio contact could be made with the robot.

“Without full deployment, there is no way we could have communicated with it as the radio frequency antenna was under the solar panels,” says Professor Mark Sims, the Beagle-2 mission manager.

Sims told the BBC, “The failure cause is pure speculation, but it could have been, and probably was, down to sheer bad luck – a heavy bounce perhaps distorting the structure as clearances on solar panel deployment weren't big; or a punctured and slowly leaking airbag not separating sufficiently from the lander, causing a hang-up in deployment.”

The UK Space Agency mission intended for the probe to arrive on Mars on Christmas Day, 2003. However, after being deployed on the 19 December, no radio contact was ever made. The Beagle-2 team assumed that it had been destroyed in a high-velocity impact. They suspected that the atmosphere around Mars was thinner than anticipated, meaning that it would have hit the surface quicker than planned.

Despite its failings, the robot landed only 5km away from its intended target; a bull’s-eye for interplanetary missions.

The MRO also took images of the parachute and rear cover being deployed as intended, meaning that the entry capsule protected Beagle-2 as planned, on entry into the atmosphere.

Colin Pillinger, the probe’s principal investigator, passed away on 7 May 2014, but the Royal Society bestowed him with an award of commemoration in November 2014.


 

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