The Beagle Has Landed – All Over


The $375 million Beagle 2, the first fully European mission to be sent to any planet, has been hailed as a triumph for British ingenuity and for European space exploration. Too bad it appears to be dead, dead, dead.

The failure to pick up a signal from Beagle 2 after three days, has raised fears that the probe, no bigger than an open umbrella, may have suffered the same fate as so many craft before it and ended up as scrap metal strewn across the bleak Martian landscape.

Of the previous 11 probes dropped on the red planet’s surface, only three have survived and it is estimated that around two in every three Russian and U.S. missions to Mars have been whole or partial failures.

ESA officials said that even if Beagle 2 was not found, the Mars Express mother craft that carried the 75 pound probe had successfully been guided on to an orbit around Mars from where it would study the planet for two years.

Then there are the two American rovers. When the first of two NASA rovers arrives on Mars next Saturday, a Denver-built orbiter will be the key link in a new system to relay vital landing data back. Mars Global Surveyor will pass 250 miles overhead on Jan. 3 when the the first of the golf cart-sized rovers, Spirit, streaks to its landing site. NASA engineers hope to avoid what happened in December 1999, when they lost contact with the Denver-built Mars Polar Lander several minutes before landing.

Mars Odyssey spacecraft will track the rover’s radio signals and measure how it changes in pitch as the orbiter passes overhead. Those so-called Doppler shift measurements, when combined with other location tools, should allow engineers to pinpoint the rover landing site to within a few hundred yards. About two-thirds of the data and pictures will be sent home via Odyssey and Global Surveyor. The other third will be beamed directly to Earth on antennas built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies in Boulder.

The Cornell-developed, panoramic camera, called the Pancam, on board the rovers Spirit and Opportunity will provide the most-detailed Martian landscapes ever seen. The twin-lens CCD camera sends pictures to the rover’s onboard computer for mosaicing and compression, before the data are sent to Earth.

Richard Zurek at the Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, was project scientist for two of the doomed Mars missions, the Mars Climate Orbiter and the Mars Polar Lander. The orbiter is believed to have struck the planet because of a mix-up about the imperial and metric units used to calculate how long to fire its rockets.

The Japanese Nozomi probe was fried by the recent solar storm and is now largely inoperable.

Mars Today, Space.com, Spaceflight Now, The Planetary Society, Nasa Watch (not a Nasa site), Houston Space Chronicle, Encyclopedia Astronautica, Nasa homepage, Welcome to the Nasa Web, Nasa Human Spaceflight (shuttle homepage), Kennedy Space Center, Mars Global Surveyor, Galileo: journey to Jupiter, European Space Agency, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, British National Space Centre, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and Space Ref have the latest. Daily Wireless has more on The Mission to Mars and the 1999 Mission to Mars.

The next departure: 2005.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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