Beagle 2

Beagle 2 was the lander of the Mars Express mission of the European Space Agency ( ESA). It was developed under the direction of British universities and constructed. Beagle 2 is probably landed in the night from December 24 to December 25 2003 after a five-day flight on the Martian surface. Since no radio contact with the probe was made ​​, it was declared on 11 February 2004 for lost.

The name "Beagle" goes back to the expedition ship HMS Beagle, with Charles Darwin conducted a five -year expedition to chart the coastline of South America. The driving force and ultimate leader of the project was Colin Pillinger, professor at the Open University in Milton Keynes England. He succeeded the ESA to convince them to take the only 57 kg vast Beagle on board the Mars Express on a journey to Mars.

Planned Mission History

Beagle 2 did not have a drive of its own and was not controlled during the descent phase of the Earth. The lander got the power for the flight from the movement of her mother 's Mars Express. Having no contact with the probe was eight hours possible, ensuring took place as scheduled on 19 December 2003.

The lander had a heat shield for protection during entry into the Martian atmosphere. The speed should be reduced to 1200 kilometers per hour in this phase of about 20,000 kilometers per hour. The heat shield temperatures of up to 1700 degrees Celsius are expected at this time.

The planned opening of a first parachute at a height of about seven kilometers, which should further slow down the speed to 335 kilometers per hour, was already no longer be confirmed. 2.6 km above the Martian surface, the main parachute should then be opened. Between the heights of 275 meters to 200 meters above the ground, the gas airbags should be filled. According to plan, the lander would have now had a vertical speed of 56 kilometers per hour and a horizontal speed of 129 kilometers per hour. The airbag system should protect with about 50 to 60 kilometers per hour incident on the surface of Mars lander during the impact. The British landing system possessed contrary to the landing systems of the two American Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit and Opportunity, no braking rockets that reduced the horizontal and vertical velocity just before touch down again. Come to a standstill on the Martian soil, the air bags should be separated.

After landing, the lander by a drill ( PLUTO, Planetary Underground Tool) should draw up to three soil samples from a maximum depth of 1.5 meters and they are investigating on the spot. Through the analysis of the combustion gases of the Martian soil should be demonstrated whether there is or was life on Mars. Among other instruments were still panoramic cameras and a stone grinder on board.

Loss of the probe

After separation from the mother probe but no radio signal from Beagle 2 could be received. On 11 February 2004 was officially declared lost in a press release from the ESA Beagle 2. The ESA and the United Kingdom announced a joint investigation into the causes of the loss. The results of the study will be incorporated into future missions. Chairman of the investigation committee is ESA's Inspector General René Bonnefoy.

One can only speculate about the causes of the loss. Reasons for the non- successful contact with Beagle 2, several reasons are possible:

  • The heat shield had a defect. Thus, the probe would burn up upon entry into the Martian atmosphere.
  • The parachute or the airbags have failed, the probe would be shattered.
  • After a successful landing to have the solar panels, under which the antenna is located, not popped up. Communication would therefore have been impossible.
  • The clock has been adjusted by the shock of the impact. She is responsible for contacting the Mars Express and Mars Odyssey.
  • The lander has landed in a crater and can send any signals due to the topography of the orbiters or directly to Earth.
  • It is also not excluded that the lander has the planet may ever quite wrong. The study of the last made ​​by the lander images shortly after its separation from the mother ship have subsequently reveal an unexpected, small, floating next to the landing capsule object when it is no picture errors could indicate that a malfunction of the rejection of the Landers could have been present responsible spring mechanism and the predicted path could not be complied with to the planet therefore.
  • The most likely option will be to look into the unsteady, thin atmosphere of Mars. On the landing of the air pressure at the landing site by about 25% was lower than expected, which could have the effect that the sensors were too late or not at all given the on-board computer the command to open the parachute and the probe actually crashed on the surface is.

After evaluation of image data from December 2005, the head of Colin Pillinger project has discovered the device claims to be on pictures of the Martian surface and considered the "secret to Beagle 2" for largely clarified. NASA camera had captured clearly identifiable features, including the airbag and the solar panel. Images from NASA 's Mars Global Surveyor would allow a reconstruction of the events on December 19, 2003, when the contact with Beagle 2 demolitions. Colin Pillinger said that the mobile robot research of the European Mars Mission in December 2003 put in a crater on the planet close to the actually intended landing site. According Pillinger and his Mars team, there was an unexpectedly hard landing of Beagle 2, possibly due to the considerable fluctuations in air pressure above. This had been destroyed likely instruments for communication. After again later taken pictures of the Mars exploration satellite MRO reports of the discovery could not be confirmed. The presumed fragments of Beagle 2 were not found by the high-resolution HiRise camera in the presumed small crater. The probe therefore still considered lost. ( Updated 02/ 2007)

To determine the reason for the failure of Beagle 2 mission with absolute certainty, will no longer be possible. Over the entire descent phase are no telemetry data that might give more detailed information about the cause of the problems. A similar problem had NASA in 1999, when the Mars Polar Lander was lost on landing. The reasons for the loss are not clearly clarified. NASA, however, has consequences drawn from the total loss and modifies the landing systems of the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. During the six-minute landing phase They send out 36 different audio signals with which they confirm the execution of individual actions, such as opening the landing parachute. In this way, the cause of an error would have problems can be better contained. The landing of the rovers, however, was successful.


The Beagle 2 mission was an ambitious European project, which was realized under enormous time pressure with a very small budget of only 30 million euros.

The mission was a dangerous project in two senses. Firstly, the ESA had no experience with landings of probes, and on the other had never been attempted before in this form, with only one mission an orbiter (Mars Express) and a lander ( Beagle 2 ) to bring to Mars. During the disengagement maneuver, the flyby spacecraft Mars Express had a collision course with Mars and could not receive commands from the European Space Operations Centre of ESA ( ESOC ) because their antenna during this maneuver could not be aligned to the earth.

After the loss of radio contact with Beagle 2, was reported in the German mass media critical of the mission. There were headlines like " PR crash on Mars " or finding "failure on Mars ". Looking at the list of missions to Mars, it is clear that the history of unmanned space flight to Mars is characterized again by setbacks and total losses. Only about a third of all missions have reached Mars. Beagle 2 was the first European attempt to land on Mars.

Further plans

Professor Pillinger first planned another attempt with an improved model of Beagle 2 at the time of the next " window approach " in 2007. Particular, by the above mentioned tracking the descent phase of the lander should be an important new element by telemetry. The probe should be this modified so that the antenna is on the outside and can only be extended not, as previously, when the lander is already unfolded after landing on the ground. But for this experiment it was not.

If the ESA ExoMars rover mission, which is currently scheduled for 2018, specifically, is another Beagle mission would have lost their meaning.