The Beagle 2 was Europe’s first try to land on Mars. Operated by the European Space Agency, the spacecraft was named after Charles Darwin’s ship (HMS Beagles). The primary purpose of the Beagle 2 mission was to research and analyze the possibility of past and present life on Mars. The idea of the probe was mooted by Professor Colin Pillinger of the Open University, Milton. It was launched in 2003. It was expected to have reached the surface of Mars and send back data on 25th December 2003. However, Beagle 2 did not send any data, and it was presumed lost for over a decade. In 2015, through NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Beagle 2 was discovered on the surface of Mars.
The recovery and decision to use reflection analysis
Sadly, Beagle’s 2 discovery in 2015 came just one year after the death of the mission’s lead scientist: Professor Colin Pillinger. The discovery suggested that the spacecraft landed on Mars’ surface. This landing by itself is a great relief to the European Space Agency who initially thought that the mission had utterly failed. To find out what happened to Beagle 2, a study was carried out. This study was undertaken jointly by the University of Leicester together with the De Montfort University. Professor Sims from the University of Leicester and former manager of Beagle 2 suggested the use of reflection analysis.
The analysis involved the researchers using a 3D modeling to assist them to find the best match with satellite images. They managed to find a match by imitating sunlight configurations and angles. The analysis made of the Beagles 2 spacecraft images indicated that it did not crash-land on the surface of Mars.
The reflection analysis on Beagle 2
In 2016, reflection analysis was carried out regarding the spacecraft Beagle 2. The analysis was done by researchers from the University of Leicester in partnership with De Montfort University. It was the researchers hope that these results would aid in understanding what happened to the probe Beagle 2. The following are the findings of the analysis carried out by the researchers:
- The spacecraft could have worked for a while, but it was unable to send information to Earth.
- Beagle 2 landed safely, and three of its four solar panels opened well.
- It is likely that blockage of the solar panels by an airbag affected the transmission of data to Earth.
- It also revealed that the spacecraft landed on Martian surface. This landing, therefore, demonstrated that its design was excellent.
- The spacecraft only failed in the transmission of data.
- It could be said that the heavy landing may have damaged the internal electric system.
After going through the analysis, Nick Higget remarked that we would find out what happened to Beagle 2 by sending an astronaut to Mars. On his part, Professor Sims said that they were happy that Beagle 2 did not crash, but rather landed on the surface of Mars. Currently, the design of Beagle 2 is being used to make other spacecraft like Beagle to the moon and Beagle 2007. Clearly, the European Space Agency has drawn a lot of lessons from the mission of Beagle 2.
The Beagle 2 was a British made spacecraft. The manufacturer of the spacecraft was the European Space Agency. It was expected to land on Martian surface on the 25th day of December 2003. Beagle 2 was operated by National Space Centre, in the United Kingdom. The Spacecraft properties are as follows:
- payload mass of 9 kg
- landing mass of 33.2 kg
- dimension of 1.9 Meters diameter, when unfolded and 1 Meter when folded
The name Beagle 2 is derived from the name of a ship used by Charles Darwin. The ship’s name was HMS Beagles. Charles Darwin used the ship in the 1830s to travel the world. His journeys led to the realization about life on earth.
The disappearance of Beagle 2 in Mars
The purpose of launching Beagle 2 to Mars was to look for any signs of past or present life on Mars. The Beagle 2 had the ability to gather soil samples and examine them for indications of organic molecules linked with life on the onboard laboratory. After the spacecraft had landed on Mars on 25th of December 2003, no signal was received on Earth. A pursuit for the missing Beagle 2 began. The probe was assumed lost for more than ten years. This was frustrating for the team that was concerned with sending Beagle 2 to Mars. However, the search for the missing Beagle 2 did not stop as the team was hopeful of finding a signal. In 2003, efforts to get signals from Beagle 2 using Mars Express failed. After that, in February the Beagle 2 Management Board declared the spacecraft lost. An inquiry to look into the failure of Beagle 2 began.
At last Beagle 2 is found!
In 2015, there were confirmed reports that Beagle 2 had been located intact on Mars surface. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter found the Beagle 2. The location of the spacecraft was on the surface of Isidis Planitia. The images of Hi-RISE camera from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed:
- A bright shape resembling the lander and some of its panels are deployed.
- The images were not clear enough to show how many Panels of Beagle 2 unfolded.
- Images that illustrated what could have been the rear cover and parachute. They seem to have been properly abandoned during its descent.
- The images suggested that Beagle 2 did not crash on Mars surface as a result of the failure of descent and landing system. The Beagle 2 images show it on the surface of Mars but only deployed itself partly.
- The first indication of the recovery of Beagle 2 came when on the location that the spacecraft was intended to land, scientists saw an object sparkling on Mars surface.
It is still a mystery why the spacecraft lost contact. Most people speculate that the reasons why the Beagle 2 was unable to send signals back to earth were obstruction of the panels by an airbag, mechanical damage during landing. The team was blissful that Beagle 2 was intact when it landed. The team has also learned a lot from the Beagle 2 mission.