Beagle 2 on Mars: Five things you should know about the mission everyone thought had failed

 
Sarah Spickernell
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The mission was supposed to land on Mars on Christmas Day 2003 (Source: HIRISE/NASA/Leicester)

WHAT IS BEAGLE 2?

Beagle2 is a European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft that was sent to Mars on Christmas Day 11 years ago.
The purpose of the UK-led project was to search for signs of life on the red planet, but a lack of communication from the space craft led researchers to believe that it had been destroyed and perhaps never even managed to land.
The machine cost around £50m to build, which made the failure not only a disappointing one, but also an expensive one.
Now, for the first time since the craft was launched, images have been released from a Nasa camera showing that Beagle 2 did in fact make it to the surface of Mars, and remains largely intact.

WHY DID EVERYONE THINK IT HAD FAILED?

The design of Beagle2 incorporated a series of deployable “petals” mounted with solar panels. These should have powered the craft's regular communication with Earth, which is why scientists concluded that something had gone wrong when no contact was made over the 11 year period.
Theories included destruction by a high-velocity impact and failure of the entry, descent and landing system.

HOW DID SCIENTISTS REALISE THIS WASN'T THE CASE?

Images taken by the HiRISE camera on Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have shown that Beagle 2 is present on the surface of Mars.
They reveal a bright shape resembling the lander, with only some of its solar panels deployed. Not only that, but the craft seems to be in pristine form.
The discovery shouldn't come as a complete surprise, however – in 2013, there were signs that Beagle 2 had been found when scientists saw something shining on the surface of Mars in the approximate area of Beagle 2's planned landing point.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED?

According to the new images, the reason why no communication has been made by Beagle 2 since 2003 is that the craft did not unfurl properly upon landing.
The photographs are not sharp enough to determine exactly how many of the four panels unfolded – scientists are taking more to work this out.

WHAT NEXT?

The fact that Beagle 2 managed to land on Mars will have important repercussions for future missions to the planet, such as ExoMars – another ESA project which is planned for launch next year.
“Beagle 2 trained a generation of scientists and engineers in planetary science and engineering,” Mark Simms, Beagle2's mission manager, told The Guardian.

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