Status Report

Next Stop Mars!

By SpaceRef Editor
December 19, 2003
Filed under , , ,
Next Stop Mars!

We have separation! That was the message from the European Space Operations
Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, to announce that the British-built
Beagle 2 spacecraft is now flying independently from its Mars Express
“mother ship”.

Initial confirmation that the separation manoeuvre has been successful came
at 10.42 GMT, when Mars Express mission control at ESOC received telemetry
data to indicate that electrical disconnection had taken place between
Beagle 2 and the orbiter. This was followed at 11.12 GMT by confirmation
that the two spacecraft had mechanically separated.

It is hoped that the orbiter’s onboard Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) has
been able to capture images showing the slowly spinning Beagle 2 pulling
away from Mars Express. If all goes well, these images should be available
early this afternoon.

“I’d like to congratulate everyone who has been a part of this project,
particularly the team that built the Spin up and Eject Mechanism,” said UK
Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury. “This is an extraordinary example of the
best of British engineering as well as the best of British science.”

Comparing it to a two-legged soccer match, both of which were being played
away, Beagle 2 Lead Scientist Prof. Colin Pillinger said, “We’ve got a 1-0
result in the first leg, we’re playing the second leg on Christmas Day.”

The separation manoeuvre involved the use of a spring mechanism to give the
lander a gentle push away from the orbiter. Now stabilised as it spins like
a top at a rate of 14 rpm, Beagle 2 is pulling ahead of Mars Express at a
rate of about 0.3 m/s (1 ft/s).

The separation marked the first key landmark at the beginning of a tense
week for the Beagle 2 team. From now on, Beagle 2 will be on its own and
looking after itself in terms of stability, power, thermal control and entry

Following a carefully targeted ballistic trajectory, the 68.8 kg probe will
remain switched off for most of the 5 million kilometre coast phase to Mars.
Then, a few hours before entering the Martian atmosphere, an onboard timer
will turn on the power and boot up Beagle’s computer. Beagle 2 must rely on
its own battery until its solar arrays are fully deployed on the surface.

Early on 25 December, Beagle 2 will plunge into the atmosphere at a speed of
more than 20 000 km per hour (12,500 mph) before parachuting to its planned
landing site, a broad basin close to the Martian equator, known as Isidis
Planitia. Later that day, Mars Express should enter orbit around Mars.


25th Dec

  • 02:47 GMT Beagle 2 enters Mars atmosphere
  • 02:54 GMT Beagle 2 lands on Mars
  • 03:00 GMT Mars Express orbital insertion
  • 05:15 GMT Mars Odyssey orbiter flies over Beagle 2 – first possible signal retrieval from the lander
  • 07:00 GMT First evaluation of Mars Express orbital insertion
  • 07:15 GMT Sunset on Mars (18:35 local solar time)
  • 20:02 GMT Sunrise on Mars (07:02 local solar time)
  • 22:45 GMT Possible direct capture of Beagle 2 signals at Jodrell Bank Observatory (UK)

26th Dec

  • 07:55 GMT Sunset on Mars (18:36 local solar time)


Beagle 2 was named to commemorate Charles Darwin’s five-year voyage around
the world in HMS Beagle (1831-36). The outcome of Darwin’s groundbreaking
studies, including his observations of the unique wildlife on the Galapagos
Islands, was the publication of On the Origin of Species (1859), which
described his revolutionary theories of evolution.

Beagle 2 weighs about 68 kg and is 0.95 m in diameter. Attached to ESA’s
Mars Express spacecraft, it was launched by a Soyuz/Fregat rocket from
Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 2 June 2003.

By the time it arrives on the Martian surface, Beagle 2 will weigh 33 kg, of
which 9 kg will be science instruments. This is the most ambitious
experiment package ever flown in space.


All media enquiries up until 24th December to:-

Peter Barratt

Tel: 01793 442025

Mobile: 0787 9602899


Gill Ormrod

Tel: 01793 442012

Mobile: 0781 8013509


Julia Maddock

Tel: 01793 442094

Mobile: 07901 514975


Please note that from 2300 hours on 24th December 2003 the Beagle 2 Media
Centre will operate from:-

The Open University – Camden Offices

1-11 Hawley Crescent

Camden, London NW1 8NP

Tel: 01908 332015/01908 332017

Fax: 01908 332016

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

SpaceRef staff editor.