Washington: The UK-led Beagle 2 Mars lander, which was previously thought to have been lost on on Mars since 2003, has been found partially deployed on the surface of the Red Planet.
Contrary to the earlier presumption that the UK-led probe had been destroyed in a high-velocity impact, this find shows that the entry, descent and landing sequence for the lander worked and the it did indeed successfully land on Mars on Christmas Day 2003.
Now, more than a decade later, and ending the mystery surrounding the fate of the lander, it has been identified in images taken by the high-resolution camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Beagle-2 was released from its mother craft on 19 December 2003 and was due to land six days later, but no radio contact was made with the lander after its scheduled touchdown, and searches by Mars Express and NASA's Mars Odyssey mission were fruitless.
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, in parallel with members of the Beagle 2 industrial and scientific teams, has been patiently screening images from HiRISE looking for signs of the lander after it had gone missing.
After the identification of potential counterparts to Beagle 2 in the expected landing of Isidis Planitia, a large impact basin close to the martian equator, further images were obtained and analysed by the camera team, the Beagle 2 team and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The images show the lander in what appears to be a partially deployed configuration, with only one, two or at most three of the four solar panels open, and with the main parachute and what is thought to be the rear cover with its pilot/drogue parachute still attached close by.
Further, subsequent re-imaging and analysis by the Beagle 2 team, HiRISE team and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has confirmed that the targets discovered, are of the correct size, shape, colour and dispersion (i.e. separation) to be Beagle 2.
(With Agency Inputs)