The long missing Beagle 2 probe has been found intact on the surface of Mars. High-resolution images captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have also identified its landing location. The UK-led robot was sent to Mars with the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Mars Express orbiter. The probe was supposed to detach from the orbiter and float down to the Red Planet using airbags and parachutes.
Solar panels did not unfurl fully
Beagle 2 was scheduled to make a soft landing on the Red Planet on Christmas Day in 2003, and send a message to British space scientists that it was safe. Unfortunately, the message never came. No radio contact with the probe was ever made. Scientists on Earth presumed that it was destroyed in a high-velocity impact. New images offer details about what really happened with the mission.
Beagle 2 was equipped with a number of deployable “petals” of solar panels. New pictures suggest that the solar panels did not fold out completely. Without full deployment, the probe was unable to communicate because the radio frequency antenna was under the solar panels. Beagle’s mission manager from Leicester University, Prof Mark Sims, told BBC News that the cause of failure was pure speculation.
Pillinger’s Beagle 2 mission was very close to success
It could have been due to a heavy bounce that might have distorted its structure. Or it could have been a punctured airbag not separating from the probe, hampering the deployment of solar panels. It means that the probe did not crash as was previously assumed, it was just unable to communicate to Earth. The discovery of Beagle 2 comes eight months after its principal investigator Colin Pillinger died in May 2014.
Named after Charles Darwin’s famous ship, Beagle 2 was the brainchild of Pillinger. He sparked immense enthusiasm in people for space research. Beagle 2 was a unique mission funded by private donations. Pillinger raised money for the mission through promotional campaigns. Discovery of the probe shows how close scientists and engineers were to success.