Replica of Beagle 2 at the London Science Museum
|Mission type||Mars lander|
|Operator||European Space Agency|
|Mission duration||2 months (planned)|
|Start of mission|
|Launch date||2 June 2003, 07:45 UTC|
|Rocket||Soyuz-FG / Fregat|
|Launch site||Baikonur Cosmodrome|
|Landing date||25 December 2003, 02:45 UTC|
|Landing site||Isidis Planitia, Mars
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The spacecraft was successfully deployed from the Mars Express on 19 December 2003 and was scheduled to land on the surface of Mars on 25 December; however, no contact was received at the expected time of landing on Mars, with the ESA declaring the mission lost in February 2004, after numerous attempts to contact the spacecraft were made.
Beagle 2's fate remained a mystery until January 2015, when it was located intact on the surface of Mars in a series of images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE camera. The images suggest that two of the spacecraft's four solar panels failed to deploy, blocking the spacecraft's communications antenna.
Beagle 2 was conceived by a group of British academics headed by Professor Colin Pillinger of the Open University, in collaboration with the University of Leicester. Its purpose was to search for signs of life on Mars, past or present, and its name reflected this goal, as Professor Pillinger explained:
"HMS Beagle was the ship that took Darwin on his voyage around the world in the 1830s and led to our knowledge about life on Earth making a real quantum leap. We hope Beagle 2 will do the same thing for life on Mars."
Isidis Planitia, an enormous flat sedimentary basin that overlies the boundary between the ancient highlands and the northern plains of Mars, was chosen as the landing site and a 50 by 8 kilometres (31.1 by 5.0 mi) ellipse centered on Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found. was selected. The lander was expected to operate for about 180 days and an extended mission of up to one Martian year (687 Earth days) was thought possible. The Beagle 2 lander objectives were to characterise the landing site geology, mineralogy, geochemistry and oxidation state, the physical properties of the atmosphere and surface layers, collect data on Martian meteorology, climate, and search for biosignatures.
Pillinger set up a consortium to design and build Beagle 2. The principal members and their initial responsibilities were:
- Open University – Consortium leader & scientific experiments
- University of Leicester – Project management, Mission management, Flight Operations Team, instrument management, and scientific experiments
- Astrium – Main industrial partner
- Martin-Baker – Entry, descent and landing system
- Logica – Cruise, entry, descent and landing software
- SCISYS – Ground segment and lander software
- University of Wales, Aberystwyth – Robotic arm
In 2000, when the main development phase started, Astrium took over responsibility for programme management, and Leicester assumed responsibility for mission management which involved the preparations for the operations post launch and the operations control centre. They also teamed up with McLaren Applied Technologies who designed and built landing equipment and the solar panels.
In an effort to publicise the project and gain financial support, its designers sought and received the endorsement and participation of British artists. The mission's call-sign was composed by the band Blur, and the 'test card' (Calibration Target Plate) intended for calibrating Beagle 2's cameras and spectrometers after landing was painted by Damien Hirst.
The Lander Operations Control Centre (LOCC) was located at the National Space Centre in Leicester, from which the spacecraft was being controlled, and was visible to the public visiting the centre. The control centre included operational systems for controlling Beagle 2, analysis tools for processing engineering and scientific telemetry, virtual reality tools for preparing activity sequences, communications systems, and the Ground Test Model (GTM). The GTM was composed of various builds of the Beagle 2 systems, collected together to provide a full set of lander electronics. The GTM was used nearly continuously to validate the engineering and science commands, to rehearse the landing sequence, and to validate the onboard software.
Spacecraft and subsystems
Beagle 2 has a robotic arm known as the Payload Adjustable Workbench (PAW), designed to be extended after landing. The PAW contains a pair of stereo cameras, a microscope (with a 6 micrometre resolution), a Mössbauer spectrometer, an X-ray spectrometer, a drill for collecting rock samples and a spot lamp. Rock samples were to be passed by the PAW into a mass spectrometer and gas chromatograph in the body of the lander - the GAP (Gas Analysis Package), to measure the relative proportions of different isotopes of carbon and methane. Since carbon is thought to be the basis of all life, these readings could have revealed whether the samples contained the remnants of living organisms. Atmospheric methane is another signature of existing life, although geological processes can also be a source.
In addition, Beagle 2 is equipped with a small "mole" (Planetary Undersurface Tool, or PLUTO), to be deployed by the arm. PLUTO has a compressed spring mechanism designed to enable it to move across the surface at a rate of 20 mm per second and to burrow into the ground and collect a subsurface sample in a cavity in its tip. The mole is attached to the lander by a power cable which could be used as a winch to bring the sample back to the lander.
The lander has the shape of a shallow bowl with a diameter of 1 m and a depth of 0.25 m. The cover of the lander is hinged and folded open to reveal the interior of the craft which holds a UHF antenna, the 0.75 m long robot arm, and the scientific equipment. The main body also contains the battery, telecommunications, electronics, and central processor, heaters, and additional payload items (radiation and oxidation sensors). The lid itself further should have unfolded to expose four disk-shaped solar arrays. The lander package has a mass of 69 kg at launch but the actual lander was only 33.2 kg at touchdown.
The ground segment itself was derived from the European Space Agency software kernel known as SCOS2000. In keeping with the low cost theme of the mission, the control software was the first of its type deployed on a laptop.
Mars Express launched from Baikonur on 2 June 2003, at 17:45 UTC (18:45 BST). Beagle 2 was a Mars lander initially mounted on the top deck of the Mars Express Orbiter. It was released from the Orbiter on a ballistic trajectory towards Mars on 19 December 2003 at 8:31 UT. Beagle 2 coasted for six days after release and was scheduled to enter the Martian atmosphere, at over 20,000 km/h, on the morning of 25 December. The lander was protected from the heat of entry by a heat shield coated with NORCOAT, an ablating material made by EADS. Compression of the Martian atmosphere and radiation from the hot gas are estimated to have led to a peak heating rate of around 100 W/cm², comparable to the heat flux experienced by Mars Pathfinder.
After deceleration in the Martian atmosphere, parachutes deployed, and at about 200 m above the surface large airbags inflated around the lander to protect it when it hit the surface. Landing occurred at about 02:45 UT on 25 December 2003 (9:45 p.m. EST 24 December). After landing, the bags deflated and the top of the lander opened. However only two of the four solar panels deployed. A signal was supposed to be sent to Mars Express after landing and another the next (local) morning to confirm that Beagle 2 survived the landing and the first night on Mars. A panoramic image of the landing area was then supposed to be taken using the stereo camera and a pop-up mirror, after which the lander arm would have been released. The lander arm was to dig up samples to be deposited in the various instruments for study, and the "mole" would have been deployed, crawling across the surface to a distance of about 3 metres from the lander and burrowing under rocks to collect soil samples for analysis.
Although the Beagle 2 craft successfully deployed from the Mars Express "mother ship", confirmation of a successful landing was not forthcoming. It should have come on 25 December 2003, when Beagle 2 was to have contacted NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft that was already in orbit. In the following days, the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank also failed to pick up a signal from Beagle 2. The team said they were "still hopeful" of finding a successful return signal.
Attempts were made throughout January and February 2004 to contact Beagle 2 using Mars Express. The first of these occurred on 7 January 2004, but ended in failure. Although regular calls were made, particular hope was placed on communication occurring on 12 January, when Beagle 2 was pre-programmed to expect the Mars Express probe to fly overhead, and on 2 February, when the probe was supposed to resort to the last communication back-up mode: Auto-transmit. However, no communication was ever established with Beagle 2. Beagle 2 was declared lost on 6 February 2004, by the Beagle 2 Management Board. On 11 February, ESA announced an inquiry would be held into the failure of Beagle 2.
On 20 December 2005 Professor Pillinger released specially processed images from the Mars Global Surveyor which suggested that Beagle 2 had come down in a crater at the landing site on Isidis Planitia. It was claimed that the blurry images showed the primary impact site as a dark patch and, a short distance away, Beagle 2 surrounded by the deflated airbags and with its solar panels extended. However, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera subsequently observed the area, in February 2007, and revealed that the crater was empty.
Professor Pillinger said that higher than expected levels of dust in the Martian atmosphere, which captures heat, caused it to expand and reduce in density, so that the parachutes were not able to slow the probe sufficiently. This would cause the landing to be too hard, damaging or destroying the probe.
A number of other failure theories were produced at the time. If the Martian atmosphere was thinner than expected, that would have reduced the parachute's effectiveness and therefore caused the lander to "plummet" and hit the surface with enough speed to destroy it. Turbulence in the atmosphere, which would affect the parachute, was also examined.
Failures in missions to Mars are common. As of 2010, of 38 launch attempts to reach the planet, only 19 have succeeded. Failures are sometimes informally called the Mars Curse.
ESA/UK inquiry report
In May 2004, the report from the Commission of Inquiry on Beagle 2 was submitted to ESA and the UK's science minister Lord Sainsbury. Initially the full report was not published on the grounds of confidentiality, but a list of 19 recommendations was announced to the public.
- Beagle entered in atmospheric conditions outside the range assumed by its designers and could have burnt up. The scenario that it may have "bounced off into space" has been put forward but this does not stand up to close technical scrutiny. The amount of dust in the atmosphere often varies widely, changing its density and temperature characteristics. However, the chosen margins on the design of the heat shield and the thermal loads it can withstand are such that the burn-up scenario is unlikely, and even the worst case density variations certainly are not such that, given the steep entry flight path angle at entry, the craft could conceivably have left the atmosphere again (see also Section 6.1 of the Inquiry Report, which states explicitly: "the Commission concludes that deviation of the atmospheric entry conditions is not a probable failure mode of the mission");
- The probe's parachute or cushioning airbags failed to deploy or deployed at the wrong time. This is supported by the observation that throughout the transfer to Mars, the outgassing of some substance and subsequent condensation on optical components of the Mars Express spacecraft carrying the Beagle lander was observed. This observation would be consistent with a leak in the gas generators of Beagle's airbags;
- Beagle's backshell tangled with the parachute preventing it from opening properly. It is not clear whether the difference in air drag between the probe with the parachute deployed and the back shell of the heat shield is sufficient to guarantee a safe separation distance (see Section 5.4.4 of the Inquiry Report);
- Beagle became wrapped up in its airbags or parachute on the surface and could not open. Entanglement with the parachute appears plausible in view of the fact that the parachute's strop was shortened from the original design to save mass. Assuming that the airbags deployed, Beagle would, in the scenario, have bounced off the surface right back into the descending parachute (see also Section 5.4.6 of the Inquiry Report).
In addition, further scenarios appeared plausible and consistent with the available body of data:
- Beagle may have jettisoned its airbags too early, before it had come to a complete rest on the surface. For mass and cost reasons, the airbag jettison device was designed to be triggered by a timer rather than by acceleration sensors that would have discerned when the lander package had stopped moving. Given that the landing package of NASA's Spirit rover mission rebounded off the surface in Gusev crater numerous times before coming to a standstill – taking much more time than anticipated – Beagle's timer may have been set to a too short time (see Section 5.4.8 of the Inquiry Report);
- The parachute deployment sequence was designed to be triggered by three accelerometers. The system was not designed for a "best out of three" logic. Rather, the first accelerometer to compute that a safe deployment velocity had been reached would trigger the parachute deployment sequence, even if the accelerometer readout were faulty.
In February 2005, following comments from the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, the report was made public, and Leicester University independently published a detailed mission report, including possible failure modes, and a "lessons learned" pamphlet.
The location of Beagle 2 on Mars was unknown from late 2003 to early 2015. On 16 January 2015, more than eleven years after its loss, news sources confirmed that the lander had been located intact on the surface of Mars by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It was discovered on the surface of Isidis Planitia at Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found. in images taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The lander's landing is close to the planned location approximately 2,900 kilometres (1,800 mi) from the Curiosity rover.
Imaging analysis showed the probe on the surface and partially deployed, in the expected landing area, with its parachute and back cover nearby. Although multiple interpretations of the image are possible, all involve only partial deployment of the probe's solar panels. Images suggest that one of the "petals" on which the solar panels of the lander are mounted failed to fully open, preventing deployment of its radio antenna and blocking communication. As the probe's antenna is beneath the last panel, it is unable to transmit or receive in this state and is beyond recovery. Possible scenarios include mechanical damage during landing, fouling the deployment mechanism, or obstruction of the panels by an airbag.
Follow-on mission proposals
Features of the design have been proposed for other mission concepts:
- Beagle 2007
- Beagle 2e Evolution (Beagle 3)
- BeagleNet (multiple Beagles and a mini-rover)
- Beagle to the Moon
- ARTEMIS (multiple small Mars landers)
- MARGE (reuse an instrument)
Location of Beagle 2 in context
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