From: Open University
Posted: Saturday, January 3, 2004
Scientists working on the Beagle 2 project remain optimistic about the possibility of contacting the Mars lander, which was due to land on the Red Planet on Christmas Day.
Lead scientist Professor Colin Pillinger of the Open University and his team are working on the assumption that Beagle 2 is unable to communicate for some reason. "It is like sending someone a love letter. You know they've got it and are waiting for their response," he said. "We're trying, Beagle. Please bark."
NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft and the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank have made repeated attempts to pick up a signal from Beagle 2 since Christmas Day, without success.
Scientists now hope that Beagle 2's mothership, the Mars Express, will succeed in making contact when it is in the correct position. The first opportunity comes on January 6, and there will be further opportunities for picking up Beagle 2's signal on January 12, 13 and 17.
And from December 31 Beagle 2, which was built at the Open University, should have switched to an emergency communication mode, known as 'communication search mode 1', and will send out signals twice every Martian day, independent of its onboard clock which may be affected by software problems.
But there is a small possibility that the lander could have touched down inside a crater, posing hazards such as steep slopes and rocks. A picture of the Isidis Planitia landing site taken by the Mars Global Surveyor 20 minutes after Beagle 2's scheduled touchdown reveals a one-kilometre crater in the centre of the craft's landing ellipse.
The UK Government is keen to continue the innovative robotic exploration of Mars pioneered by Beagle 2, which is the most ambitious experiment package ever flown in space.
Lord Sainsbury, Minister for Science and Innovation, said on December 29 that the UK needed to be working with the European Space Agency to ensure that there is a Beagle 3.
"We've always recognised Beagle 2 was a high-risk project, and we must avoid the temptation in future to do only low-risk projects," he said.
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