Mars: Beagle 2 has landed

Missing ESA provincial probe has been mute on the surface of Mars for 11 years

So it was planned: ESA provincial Beagle 2 on Mars © Beagle2.com
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Successfully landed, but mute: The lost in December 2003 on Mars land probe Beagle 2 survived their landing safely. Photographs of a NASA spacecraft camera Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows that the small Mars laboratory is on the surface of Mars, but has not deployed all the awnings. This also allows for the first time conclusions on what went wrong then and why Beagle 2 never reported again.

It was supposed to be a historic moment for European space travel in two ways: With the Mars Express mission in 2003, ESA launched its own mission to another planet for the first time. The Lander Beagle 2 was also the first landing unit, which was to search for traces of life on the Red Planet since the Viking probe of the 1970s.

Beagle 2 does not answer

But while the Mars Express orbital probe exceeded all expectations and still provides valuable data and images from the Mars orbit, the mission part of Beagle 2 ended in a puzzle. On 19 December 2003, the lander separated as planned from his mother probe and flew in the direction of Mars surface. A heat shield was supposed to slow down Beagle 2 after entering the Martian atmosphere, and shortly before landing, a shell of several airbags cushioned the impact. After repelling the airbags, the four paddle-shaped awnings should unfold and the lander should extend its antenna to report its arrival - so the plan.

But it turned out differently: Beagle 2 did not answer. "If the landing sequence is correct, the probe will send the signals and you can use it to locate the exact landing site - even if it sends only very short, " said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, head of the HiRISE camera team of the NASA spacecraft Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. "But in the case of Beagle 2, we did not get anything."

The shot of the HiRISE camera shows Beagle 2 with probably only two of the three awnings unfolded © HiRISE / University of Arizona

Years of searching

To elucidate the fate of the Landesonde, researchers from NASA and ESA have been searching for years in the camera shots taken by the various orbital probes from the planned Beagle 2 landing area. But this covers an area of ​​170 by 100 kilometers in the Eben Isidis Planitia. Finding an object of a few meters in size on this area corresponds to the proverbial search for the needle in a haystack. display

But on February 28, 2013, and June 29, 2014, Michael Croon, a former member of ESA's Mars Express team, was successful. "He spotted something on the edge of a picture, but the contrast was very weak in this first image, " explains McEwen. But more shots brought clarity and showed a shimmering bright spot. "It suited Beagle 2 because its awnings were arranged like petals, each with a slightly different angle to the sun, " says McEwen. As a result, everyone reflects the light a little differently.

The Beagle 2 state probe and its rediscovery on the Mars surface University of Leicester

Directed landing, but defect on the awning?

The images show that Beagle 2 may have unfolded only two or three of its awnings. According to the British Space Agency, which was responsible for the lander at the time, this could be the reason why Beagle 2 did not answer after landing: only when all the awnings are unfolded can the antenna become active extended and the radio contact are made.

All the data to date indicates that Beagle 2 landed successfully on the Red Planet, but was unable to contact Earth any more. The researchers suspect that either an airbag was not blown off, thus preventing the folding out of all sails, or that part of the folding mechanism was damaged on impact. The researchers now want to specifically create further images of the lander to find out what exactly happened to Beagle 2 during and after his landing.

(University of Arizona / University of Leicester, 19.01.2015 - NPO)