Beagle 2 Team Moves Closer to Selecting a Landing Site on Mars While Beefing Up its Fundraising on Earth

By Keith Cowing
January 26, 2000
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Mars Express

[26 January 2000]

The developers of the Mars Express lander, more popularly known as “Beagle 2“, now fully expect that their project will be riding aboard the Mars Express spacecraft as it departs Earth for Mars in the Spring of 2003. Beagle 2 is named in honor of the research ship that carried naturalist Charles Darwin around the world in the 1830’s. Like its predecessor, Beagle 2 seeks to look for life – in this case, past or present life on the surface of Mars.

Now comes the task of raising the money to make it happen.

According to a press release issued by the Beagle 2 project, “M&C Saatchi Sponsorship, one of Europe’s leading sponsorship consultancies, today announced that it is to lend its support and commercial expertise to Beagle 2”. This firm will be working with the project team to help them develop marketing and funding strategies. The project needs to raise at least £10 million over the next four years. This is to be done with a combined approach utilizing mix of “sponsorship, merchandising, and public participation”.

After successfully passing both its Systems Engineering Review by ESA and its Preliminary Design Review by the ESA Technical Centre (ESTEC), recommendations made for Beagle 2 went before ESA’s Science Program Committee for endorsement on November 10, 1999.

As a result of a review by ESA, it was decided that the Beagle 2 was, according to an ESA press release, “considered sufficently mature,
both technically and financially, to commence Phase C/D in January 2000.” The news was received earlier than the planned date of February 2000. Again, according to ESA ” as a consequence, the development of the entire Mars Express payload, Orbiter and Lander, can proceed in full harmony. “

While fundraising proceeds, the project team is turning to the task of selecting a landing site for Beagle 2. The team has announced that they have focused their selection down to two candidate sites. According to an ESA press release, “The prospective areas are within the Chryse and Tritonis Lacus regions. Both are at low elevation, which gives more opportunity for the parachutes to brake the descent of Beagle 2. The latitude of the two sites, about 19°N, means that the mission will begin during the Martian late spring, when there is more solar energy to charge batteries and nighttime temperatures are relatively high, making it easier to keep the spacecraft warm. “

Chryse is attractive owing to the fact that it is a region with multiple flood channels that brought materials from Mars’ southern highlands down over its northern plains. Some layering has been observed in the landing area – an indication that standing bodies of water may have existed at one time.

The Tritonis Lacus region is located is on the edge of the Elysium plains and consists of a more eroded landscape than presented by the Chryse location. It is smoother and offers an ideal landing location. The team will contimue to evaluate these potential landing sites throughout 2000 and will settle upon a final selection in February 2001.

Beagle 2 Lands on MarsBeagle’s road to Mars has been a rather arduous one. Over the course of the past several years, the design of this rover has undergone drastic revisions resulting in a package that weighs 60 Kg – down from an original envelope of 90 Kg. None the less, much in the same spirit as the developers of the Viking Lander life detection experiments a generation ago, the Beagle team has found ingenious ways to cram entire laboratories into incredibly small volumes.

Its landing cushioned by three air bags reminiscent of Mars Pathfinder, Beagle 2 will unfold is circular solar panels and get down to work.

The Beagle 2 LanderRocks will be collected by the Beagle’s robot arm for analysis. The Beagle’s miniature laboratory will check for the existence of organic matter, water, and minerals deposited in the presence of standing water. This analysis will be performed with a mass spectrometric gas analysis system. Samples will be obtained by use of a small drill which will remove outer layers from rocks to get at material that has not been exposed to the harsh Martian surface.

A Mossbauer spectrometer will be used to perform a mineralogical analysis of rocks so as to gain an understanding of just how thick the highly oxidized outer layer of Mars’ surface actually is.

The Beagle also has a gas analysis system that will be used to perform soil analyses on samples collected by the “Mole”. The Mole is a small device capable of crawling across and burrowing into the uppermost surface, collecting samples along the way.

The atmosphere of Mars will also be examined. Sensors will be in place to detect trace gases such as Methane which can be indicative of biological activity.

With many of the technical and engineering hurdles now out of the way, the one daunting task still lying ahead is generating the money to make this all happen. In addition to shaving weight wherever possible, the Beagle 2 team has also had to fight for the funds needed to build and integrate it into the Mars Express mission – a mission that is designed to go with – or without Beagle 2 if need be. With the recent announcement of the M&C Saatchi Sponsorship, the Beagle team seems confident that the money will be found.

Related Links

° M&C Saatchi Sponsorship joins Beagle 2 mission to Mars, Beagle 2 Project press release, 26 January 2000

° Beagle 2 information, ESA Mars Express website

° Beagle 2 Project homepage

° Beagle 2 team assesses landing sites on Mars, ESA press release, 26 January 2000

° Image 1: Location diagram for the Beagle 2 landing sites. The landing ellipses are 240 km long.

° Image 2: Maja Vallis area. The general pattern of flood and sediment passage towards the NE is clear from the streamlined landforms. Evidence of terracing
exposed on the sides of channels is most well developed around 50-51 deg W. The N-S running ridges towards the the east of the figure may be surface expressions
of underlying lava flows. A band of Noachian basement is present around 54 deg W, the Maja Vallis channel cuts through this at 18 deg N. The landing ellipse is
240 x 20 km in 16 deg WSW/ENE orientation.

° Image 3: Tritonis Lacus. This shows the generally flat, even surface of the region with isolated mesas and craters. Sinusoidal projection Viking context image. The
landing ellipse is 240 x 20 km in 16 deg WSW/ENE orientation.

° Image 4: Model of the Beagle 2 lander.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.