It made it all the way to Mars before cutting out just before Christmas Day in 2003.
Now, 14 years after its demise, scientists believe they have finally pinpointed the resting place of the Beagle 2 Mars lander.
Not only did the lander make it, but it successfully deployed at least three of its solar panels before communication cut out – getting ‘excruciatingly close’ to succeeding.
It landed in the predicted spot in the Isidis region of Mars and the main part of the entry, descent and landing sequence all went as planned.
Experts believe it may have been slightly damaged during landing which led to its downfall.
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Pictured are high-resolution images of the Beagle 2 landing site at 90.43°E, 11.53° N, within about 12 miles (20km) of the original target. Not only did the lander make it, but it successfully deployed at least three of its solar panels before communication cut out
BEAGLE 2 LANDER
Beagle 2 was an unsuccessful British landing spacecraft that formed part of the European Space Agency’s 2003 Mars Express mission.
It was conceived by a group of British academics headed by Professor Colin Pillinger at the Open University, in collaboration with the University of Leicester.
The probe’s purpose was to search for signs of life on Mars, past or present.
A landing site on the red planet in Isidis Panitia – a basin – was chosen.
The Beagle 2 craft successfully deployed from its Mars Express ‘mother ship’.
Confirmation should have come on Christmas Day 2003 but in the following days the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank failed to pick up a signal.
Attempts were made throughout January and February 2004 to contact the probe via Mars Express, but failed.
Beagle 2 was launched in 2003 as part of Esa’s Mars Express mission.
While the Mars Express orbiter made it into orbit around the red planet, the little lander was presumed lost after failing to relay a signal – just like the recent ExoMars mission in which the Schiaparelli lander was lost.
In 2014, satellite pictures found signs of the European Space Agency’s Beagle 2 lander on the planet’s surface, reviving hopes that it was not destroyed during the mission.
They identified the lander using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) imagery which allows imagery of 30cm (12 inches) per pixel across the target region.
Following the initial identification, a total of 15 HiRISE images, including IR and red and blue-green colours have now been obtained over the area of interest.
The 1.5 metre-wide (5-feet), multilobed shape was identified close to the centre of the planned landing spot.
‘The results of our 10 year imaging campaign using the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE camera to identify the Beagle 2 lander are being published this week’, lead researcher Professor John Bridges from the University of Leicester wrote for The Conversation.
‘Even with the pixel size of 0.3 m [one foot] on the Martian surface that HiRISE gives us, finding a small lander was always going to be difficult’, he said.
Researchers had to find the lander on 1400km2 (870 miles2) of Mars.
Location of the proposed Beagle 2 lander. (a) Map showing the Beagle 2 landing site and identified location (b) within Isidis Planitia, (c) HiRISE 0.25 m per pixel image. A total of 15 HiRISE images, including IR and red and blue-green colours have now been obtained
Beagle 2 model showing solar panels 1–4. It landed in the predicted spot in the Isidis region of Mars and the main part of the entry, descent and landing sequence all went as planned
‘We ultimately found Beagle 2 20km from the predicted target in Isidis Planitia, which is a vast, 4 billion year old basin with signs of an ancient habitable environment’, Dr Bridges wrote.
‘The red, oxidised Martian surface at Isidis reflects light in a diffuse way but here was a strikingly bright object showing specular reflections – just the way light would be expected to reflect off the metallic and solar panel surfaces of a man-made object like Beagle 2’, he said.
Careful examination of the images showed a flat-lying, multi-lobed structure.
Researchers believe it may have been damaged during landing which would have meant communication between the lander and MEX was not possible.
Beagle 2 entry, descent and landing sequence. Spin and up and eject (from Mars Express) to entry took 6 days. It took eight minutes to get from atmospheric entry to impact and airbag separation. Local time at landing was approximately midday
Beagle 2 lander in the Airbus, Stevenage, UK construction facility prior to integration with Mars Express
‘This implies that the main part of the entry, descent and landing sequence, the ejection from MEX, atmospheric entry and parachute deployment, and landing worked as planned with perhaps only the final full panel deployment failing’, researchers wrote in the paper published in Royal Society Open Science.
The researchers believe that one of the panels failing to open properly could have been enough to interfere with the radio antenna being able to send back a signal.
‘We are delighted to say that we have gone way beyond the original plan to reach this exciting conclusion that Beagle 2 did not crash, but landed and probably deployed most of its panels,’ said Nick Higgett of De Montfort University back in November 2016.
‘Hopefully these results help to solve a long held mystery and will benefit any future missions to Mars.’
Experts believe it may have been slightly damaged during landing which led to its downfall. One of the panels failing to open properly could have been enough to interfere with the radio antenna being able to send back a signal
Beagle 2 was an unsuccessful British landing spacecraft that formed part of the European Space Agency’s 2003 Mars Express mission. Pictured is a replica of the lander at the National Space Centre in Leicester
It landed in the Isidis region of Mars (pictured) and experts believe it may have been slightly damaged during landing which led to its downfall
Professor Mark Sims from the University of Leicester, said: ‘This unique University collaboration between space scientists and digital designers allowed the reflection analysis concept to be put into practice and tested and ultimately produce these exciting results.’
Dr Bridges believes the Beagle 2 shows the fine and indistinct line between success and failure in Mars exploration.
‘It introduced a new generation to the possibilities of space exploration and successfully achieved the initial stage of Entry, Descent and Landing before unsuccessful final deployment of all the solar panels’, he said.
‘It will remain a significant part of the UK’s space science heritage for many years to come’.
They ran through a number of simulations, tweaking the angle of sunlight and the shape and angle of the lander in order to finally find the long-lost lander