Status Report

Beagle 2 Teams Continue Efforts To Communicate With The Lander

By SpaceRef Editor
December 27, 2003
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Beagle 2 Teams Continue Efforts To Communicate With The Lander
Beagle 2

Scientists are still waiting to hear from the Beagle 2 lander on Mars.

Two attempts to communicate with Beagle 2 during the last 24 hours –
first with the 250 ft (76 m) Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank
Observatory in Cheshire, UK, and then this morning with the Mars Odyssey
orbiter – ended without receiving a signal.

Despite this outcome, two teams at the Beagle 2 Lander Operations
Control Centre in Leicester are continuing to study all possible options
to establish communications with the spacecraft.

Further opportunities to scan for a signal from Beagle 2 will be
undertaken over the coming days. Tonight the radio telescopes at Jodrell
Bank and Stanford University in California will again listen for the
carrier signal from Beagle 2, while the next Mars Odyssey pass will take
place tomorrow evening at 18.57 GMT.

Meanwhile, scientists are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the European
Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft in its operational polar orbit
on 4 January. Mars Express was always intended to be the prime
communication relay for Beagle 2, and the lander team is hopeful that a
link can be established at that time if it has not already been achieved
with Mars Odyssey.

“We need to get Beagle 2 into a period when it can broadcast for a
much longer period,” said Professor Colin Pillinger, Beagle 2 lead
scientist. “This will happen around the 4 January after the spacecraft
has experienced a sufficient number of communication failures to switch
to automatic transmission mode.”

Both Professor Pillinger and Professor David Southwood, ESA director of
science, agreed that the best chance to establish communication with
Beagle 2 would now seem to be through Mars Express.

At present, Mars Express is far from the planet and preparing to fire
its engines for a major trajectory change that will move it into a polar
orbit around the planet.

“We haven’t yet played all our cards,” said Professor Southwood.
“With Mars Express we will be using a system that we have fully tested
and understand,”

“At the moment, I am frustrated rather than concerned,” he added.

One possible cause of the communication failure is that the clock on
Beagle 2 may have been reset as the result of a computer glitch. An
attempt was made to reset the clock during this morning’s Odyssey
pass, the first to take place during daylight hours at the Beagle 2
landing site. The outcome of this “blind command” is still awaited.

Meanwhile, specialists at the Lander Operations Control Centre continue
to investigate other potential reasons for the failure of Beagle 2 to
call home, including a possible landing off course, a tilting of the
spacecraft and a problem in fully opening the solar arrays which could
result in a blockage of the weak signal from Beagle’s antenna.

Future opportunities to communicate with Beagle 2 are listed on the
Beagle 2 Web site. The results of these sessions will be announced on
the Beagle 2 and PPARC Web sites as soon as they are available.

The next press briefing will be held in the Beagle 2 Media Centre at
08.30 GMT on Monday, 29 December, when Lord Sainsbury, Minister for
Science and Innovation, will be a principal speaker.

Peter Barratt
Mobile: +44 (0)787 9602899

The Beagle 2 Media Centre is located at:

The Open University – Camden Offices
1-11 Hawley Crescent
London NW1 8NP
Tel: +44 (0)1908-332015 or +44 (0)1908-332017
Fax: +44 (0)1908-332016

For further details on Beagle 2 and Mars Express see the following Web

SpaceRef staff editor.