Beagle 2 lander found on Mars

The UK-led Beagle 2 was due to land on Mars on 25 December 2003. The spacecraft was ejected from Mars Express on 19 December 2003. Nothing had been heard from Beagle 2 and the mission was presumed lost. Until now.

It has now been announced that the Mars Lander has been identified partially deployed on the surface of Mars by images taken by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). These images show potential targets on the surface of Mars for the lander and key entry and descent components within the expected landing area.

Following analysis by members of the Beagle 2 team, which includes Leicester scientists, and NASA, the images show the Beagle 2 lander in what appears to be a partially deployed configuration with  what is thought to be the rear cover and the main parachute close by.

The HiRISE images are consistent with the lander’s size and shape.Changes in light reflections between different images suggest that the object is “metallic” (in the sense of having a shiny surface) – again consistent with Beagle 2.

Professor Colin Pillinger from the Open University, who died in May 2014, led the Beagle 2 project along with colleagues from our Department of Physics and Astronomy and EADS Astrium (Airbus Defence and Space now). Another major contributor and supporter of the mission, Professor George Fraser Director of the Space Research Centre at the University, also passed away in 2014.

Professor Mark Sims from the Space Research Centre (SRC), an integral part of the Beagle 2 project from the beginning, leading the initial study phase and Beagle 2’s Mission Manager who led the Flight Operations team said: “I am delighted that Beagle 2 has finally been found on Mars. Every Christmas Day since 2003 I have wondered what happened to it and had nearly given up hope of ever knowing.

“These images show that we came so close to achieving the goal of science on Mars and vindicate the hard work put in by so many people. Beagle 2 showed the fantastic innovation skills available from UK academia and industry and was an inspiration.”

Dr John Bridges (SRC), who led the selection of the Beagle 2 Landing Site and commissioned as HiRISE Co-investigator of the recent follow-up images said: “It’s great to see Beagle 2 on Mars. This would not be possible without the high resolution and colour capabilities of the HiRISE camera on NASA’s MRO where each pixel is 25 cm across. We can use the things we learnt from Beagle 2 in the 2018 ExoMars Rover mission.” 

Watch Professor Mark Sims discuss the Beagle 2 Mission and what this new discovery means below: