Some good news from Mars: the Beagle2 lander appears to have been found intact.
Beagle2 was a European space programme led by British scientists that was supposed to have landed on Mars on Christmas Day 2003. After touching down and making radio contact, it was to play a song composed by Damon Albarn, best known as the lead singer of Blur and Gorillaz. But no transmission has ever been received and it was presumed that the Beagle2 had crash-landed.
Now, new photos from Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter appear to show Beagle2 on the surface of Mars, in a mostly intact state. Whilst it doesn’t seem to have deployed correctly, it shows that the mission was much closer to being successful than previously thought. Sadly the principal investigator of the Beagle2 mission, Colin Pillinger, passed away last year without knowing just how far his project got.
Since Beagle2’s failure, NASA has successfully landed three rovers on Mars. Spirit and Opportunity touched down within weeks of Beagle2’s planned landing; whilst Spirit went offline in 2010, we’re still in contact with Opportunity almost 11 years after landing. Since then it’s travelled over 25 miles across the red planet, setting a new record for the longest distance travelled by a rover not on Earth. In 2012, NASA’s Curiosity rover landed successfully.
The European Space Agency (ESA), in collaboration with Russia, are trying again with a new rover in 2018, called ExoMars. Unlike Beagle2, which was static, this will be like NASA’s rovers and will be able to move around the planet. My employer, the University of Bradford, is partially involved in the project.
Maybe in the dim and distant future, we’ll be able to reach Beagle2 and find out what really happened. Manned missions to Mars will be a long way off and I can’t see this being a priority for any space agency, but it would be interesting to find out what really happened on Christmas Day 2003. It may even be possible that Beagle2’s computers survived the landing and are trying to contact its base, but the signal can’t get through.