The UK’s Beagle 2 Mars Lander has been found on Mars, more than 10 years after it went missing. After analyzing and comparing images taken over a period of years by theHiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists have identified a parachute, the partially deployed Beagle 2, a rear cover, and possibly even an air bag. The parts were all found within the Beagle 2’s expected landing area of Isidis Planitia.
The innovative lander hitched a ride on the Mars Express in 2003, and was ejected on December 19th of that year. At that time, it was fully operational. The Beagle 2 then entered Mars’ atmosphere on December 25, but was never heard from again.
“The history of space exploration is marked by both success and failure. This finding makes the case that Beagle 2 was more of a success than we previously knew and undoubtedly an important step in Europe’s continuing exploration of Mars,” says Dr David Parker, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency.
Weighing approximately 150 pounds, the Beagle 2 had a robotic arm designed to collect and analyze rock samples, using onboard stereo cameras, a microscope, a drill, and spectrometers. The UK Space Agency says that, unfortunately, there’s no way to revive the Beagle 2 or retrieve data from it, as it never fully deployed. The parachute and airbags found in the pictures were intended to cushion the Beagle 2’s impact on Mars, before it folded out, much like a pocket watch, to reveal solar panels.
“The highly complex entry, descent and landing sequence seems to have worked perfectly and only during the final phases of deployment did Beagle 2 unfortunately run into problems,” says Professor Mark Sims of the University of Leicester, who was an integral part of the Beagle 2 project. “It was a great pity we couldn’t have delivered the world class science Beagle 2 may have brought and even sadder that Colin (Pillinger) and other colleagues who died in 2014 didn’t live to see the discovery that Beagle 2 made it to Mars.”