[meteorite-list] Beagle 2 Mars Lander's Remains May Have Been Spotted on Red Planet

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Tue, 13 Jan 2015 17:39:16 -0800 (PST)
Message-ID: <201501140139.t0E1dGSB004379_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Beagle 2 Mars lander's remains may have been spotted on red planet

Press conference on Friday will provide an update on the fate of the Mars
spacecraft that disappeared on Christmas day in 2003

Ian Sample
The Guardian
January 12, 2015

A British Mars lander that was lost on its way to the red planet more
than a decade ago may have been spotted by an orbiting spacecraft.

The Beagle 2 lander was supposed to touch down on Christmas day in 2003,
but after it was released from its mothership, Mars Express, the dustbin-lid-sized
craft was never heard from again.

But Beagle 2's final resting place may finally have been discovered. Scientists
operating the HiRise camera on Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)
will take part in a press conference this Friday to announce "an update"
on the ill-fated mission.

The HiRise camera is the only camera in Mars orbit that can image the
surface in high enough detail to spot missing spacecraft. The HiRise team
has already found the twin Viking landers which touched down on Mars in
the 1970s and photographed Nasa's Phoenix, Curiosity and Opportunity rovers.
They have been actively hunting for Beagle 2 for several years.

"HiRise is the only camera at Mars that can see former spacecraft like
Beagle 2. It's definitely pretty close to its intended landing spot, no
matter what. It entered the atmosphere at the right time and place," said
Shane Byrne, a scientist on the HiRise team at the University of Arizona.
He said the team has been asked to keep more details of the announcement
under wraps.

Built on a shoestring budget, Beagle 2 was meant to announce its arrival
on Mars by playing a musical call sign written by the Britpop band Blur.
But despite astronomers listening for the lander's signature tune with
some of the most sophisticated receivers on Earth, all they heard was

Led by the late planetary scientist, Colin Pillinger at the Open University,
Beagle 2 was designed to look for signs of life on Mars and carried a
drilling instrument to poke beneath the surface. Its release from the
European Space Agency's orbiter, Mars Express, went smoothly, placing
Beagle 2 on course for a landing site at Isidis Planitia, a huge plain
near the Martian equator.

The lander was meant to deploy a parachute on its way down to the Martian
surface and inflate triple air bags at the last minute to cushion the
impact. When the spacecraft failed to call home, many space scientists
suspected it had broken up on impact.

The UK Space Agency sparked rumours that remnants of the lander had been
found when it scheduled a press conference on Friday 16 January to announce
an update on the Beagle 2 lander.

"The spacecraft was successfully released on 19th December 2003, and was
due to land on Mars on 25th December 2003. Nothing has been heard from
Beagle 2 since," the notice said.

Mark Sims, professor of astrobiology and space instrumentation at Leicester
University, who led a internal inquiry into why Beagle 2 failed to call
home, declined to comment on whether the lander had been found.

But another space scientist who spoke to the Guardian, who asked not to
be named, said that the remains of the lost lander might have been spotted
with the HiRise camera. With a new image-processing technique that overlays
multiple images, the camera can pick out features as small as 5cm across
on the Martian surface.

Pictures of the lost lander would be of huge interest to space scientists
who are planning future missions to Mars, such as the European Space Agency's
Exomars mission, which is due to launch in 2018 and land the year after.
"Whatever happens with space missions, there are always lessons to be
learned for future missions. Anything about Beagle 2 would be useful in
terms of narrowing down exactly what did go wrong," the space scientist

John Bridges at Leicester University, a member of the HiRISE camera team,
will be at the press conference, along with David Parker the chief executive
of the UK Space Agency.

The Beagle 2 lander, which looked like two dustbin lids fused together,
was 95cm in diameter. If the lander hit hard, the wreckage could be strewn
over a much larger area. Beagle 2's parachute and airbags should be easier
to spot if they deployed properly and were not blown away by Martian dust
storms. These could lead back to the lander itself.

Ian Crawford, a panetary scientist at Birkbeck, University of London,
said that even though finding Beagle 2 would not have much scientific
value, knowing its fate was still important. "People would like to know
what happened to it. Knowing where it crashed, if it did crash, could
be useful for people trying to work out what went wrong. If it landed
more or less where it was supposed to land, then that at least gives you
some confidence that the entry worked."

Researchers in charge of the HiRise camera at the University of Arizona
have taken repeated high-resolution images of the part of Isidis basin
where Beagle 2 was due to land.

"We always realise in practice that we could have done things differently
or better. And when things go wrong, if we can determine why it went wrong,
then that's invaluable," said John Zarnecki, a planetary scientist at
Open University.
Received on Tue 13 Jan 2015 08:39:16 PM PST

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