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Beagle 2 found after a decade; image shows lander in partially deployed state

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UK’s first attempt at discovering life on Mars – Beagle 2 Mars lander – has finally emerged after being lost for over a decade. The probe was spotted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in a partially deployed state.

The discovery was disclosed yesterday at a press briefing held by US Space Agency and ESA. The discovery of the probe is contrary to previous assumptions that Beagle 2 had been destroyed in a high-velocity impact. Latest images show that the entry, descent and landing sequence for the lander worked and it did manage to land successfully on Christmas Day 2003.

“I am delighted that Beagle 2 has finally been found on Mars,” said Mark Sims of the University of Leicester, UK who has been part of the project since start and has once been Beagle mission manager as well. “The images show that we came so close to achieving the goal of science on Mars”, he added.

NASA JPL Beagle 2 image

Beagle-2 was released from its mother spacecraft on December 19, 2003 and was due to land six days later, but with no radio contact with the lander after its scheduled touchdown it was assumed that the probe may have been destroyed.

Alvaro Gimenez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, said that they are very happy to learn that Beagle 2 touched down on Mars. The dedication of the various teams in studying high-resolution images in order to find the lander is inspiring.

Rudolf Schmidt, ESA’s Mars Express project manager at the time, said that not knowing what happened to Beagle 2 remained a nagging worry and understanding now that Beagle 2 made it all the way down to the surface is excellent news.

Michael Croon, a former member of the Mars Express operations team at ESA’s Space Operations Centre, ESOC, in Darmstadt, Germany, carried out initial searches from the HiRISE images and provided evidence that the lander and key descent components were actually present within the expected landing area of Isidis Planitia, an impact basin close to the equator.

Subsequent re-imaging and analysis was carried out the Beagle 2 team, the HiRISE team and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. The analysis confirmed that the components discovered match the size, shape, color and dispersion to be Beagle 2.

Tim Parker, JPL planetary geologist, said, “I’ve been looking over the objects in the images carefully, and I’m convinced that these are Beagle 2 hardware.”

The images show that Beagle 2 is in a partially deployed state with possibly three (at max) out of four solar panels open. The images do not reveal what might have gone wrong with the probe and why it didn’t fully deploy, but the discovery does reveal that the probe did manage to follow through entirely with its landing sequence.