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Lord Sainsbury hails UK role in Beagle 2 mission to Mars

Press Release From: British National Space Centre
Posted: Monday, May 19, 2003

Science Minister Lord Sainsbury today explained how UK engineering and scientific expertise will play a major role in Europe's historic mission to find life on Mars.

The European Space Agencys Mars Express orbiter and the UK-led Beagle 2 lander will blast-off from a launch pad in Kazakhstan on June 2. The mission, which is scheduled to reach the Red Planet by Christmas, could finally solve the mystery of whether life exists on Mars.

Lord Sainsbury hailed the UKs science community and more than 60 British companies involved in the development and construction of the Beagle 2 lander.

Speaking at the Royal Society, he said:

"The project involves a consortium of more than 100 academic institutions and industrial subcontractors. The lander was built in an extremely short time, and to stringent specifications. The designers and engineers involved in the project have met those challenges head-on and come up with a series of innovative solutions."

"They have achieved an extraordinary feat in designing an array of advanced instruments, capable of performing a series of precise experiments, with their own power supply, protected for their journey to another planet by a unit not much bigger than a motorcycle wheel and weighing less than 30 kilograms."

"This is a testament to the UK's strengths in engineering and world-class scientific expertise. With the experience gained and skills acquired through working on Beagle 2, UK firms have reinforced their reputation as sought-after partners in international projects."

The Mars Express spacecraft, part of ESA's Horizons 2000 programme, is designed to take a payload of seven state-of-the-art scientific instruments to orbit Mars as well as the Beagle 2 lander. Making measurements in a number of ways, these instruments will tell us more about the planets atmosphere, surface and even its interior. UK Universities have made important contributions to three of these seven instruments.

The orbiter instruments will record data for at least one Martian year, or 687 Earth days; Beagle 2 is designed to work for 180 Earth days. The satellite will also carry a data relay system for communicating with Earth, including the transfer of command and science data to and from Beagle 2.

Beagle 2 is designed to look for signs of life on Mars. It will be ejected from the orbiter and parachute down to the surface of the planet. On touchdown, it will deploy its robotic arm and paw which includes a mole to burrow into the ground and collect soil samples. These will be analysed for signs of past and present biological activity using the innovative Gas Analysis Package (GAP) developed by Professor Colin Pillinger's team at the Open University.

The lander is also packing a suite of instruments that will take pictures, acquire geological information and study the weather, including temperature, pressure and wind.

Beagle 2 is an integral part of the Mars Express spacecraft and many of the instruments will work together in harmony, reaffirming and corroborating each others results.

The Beagle 2 project is headed by the Open University, which has provided the science lead, and Astrium, which is the prime industrial contractor responsible for the main design, development and management of the lander. It involves a consortium of academic institutions and industrial subcontractors, and is funded by a unique public/private partnership.

The many UK companies involved in Beagle 2 include:

CodaSciSys, based in Chippenham, Wiltshire Developed the software for Beagle 2, enabling it to deploy solar arrays, record images of the Martian surface and send data to the Mars Express.

Systems, Engineering and Assessment Ltd (SEA), Beckington, Somerset Responsible for the main Processor for Beagle 2, which controls all the instruments on the lander so it can gather information. The processor works on very low power the equivalent of two torch batteries.

QinetiQ, Farnborough, Hampshire Developed the communications package for both the lander, Beagle 2, and the orbiter, Mars Express.

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Chilton, Oxfordshire Carried out thermal testing for the lander, helping it to withstand the harsh conditions of the Martian surface.

AEA Technology, Chilton, Oxfordshire Provided the batteries to power Beagle 2 and Mars Express.

Notes to Editors

1. The Beagle 2 lander is funded through a partnership arrangement involving the Open University, Astrium, the DTI, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), the Office of Science and Technology and the ESA, with the PPARC additionally providing part support for the mission instruments. Principal Investigators for Beagle 2 come from the Open University (Gas Analysis Package), Leicester University (Environmental Sensors and the X-Ray Spectrometer) and Mullard Space Science Laboratory (Imaging Systems).

2. For more details of the UK's industrial and scientific involvement in Beagle 2 and the Mars Express mission, please see the special background feature at www.bnsc.gov.uk

3. For more information on Beagle 2, contact:

Professor Colin Pillinger FRS
The Open University
Tel: +44 (0)1908 655169
Fax: +44 (0)1908 655910

Email:psrg@open.ac.uk

Internet:www.beagle2.com

Press Enquiries: 020 7215 0806/0905

(Out of Hours: 020 7215 3234/3505)

Public Enquiries: 020 7215 5000

Textphone (for people with hearing impairments): 020 7215 6740

http://www.bnsc.gov.uk

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