The UK’s Beagle 2 mission - the ill-fated Martian probe which went missing in December 2003 - was in some way not a glorious British failure, a British space boffin said today.
Being the first European space vehicle to perform a controlled landing on another planet, even though it didn’t deploy fully, means the mission was a success, said Professor Mark Sims, from the Space Research Centre, University of Leicester.
"Overall, I would say it has been a great success," the prof opined, although adding that the same mission approach would not be used again.
“It does prove the UK can do innovative science and engineering in space,” he said. “The UK can and will go back to Mars.”
The mission cost a relatively cheap £48m, commented Sims.
Because of the compact size of Beagle 2, its RF antenna and solar panels were located in the lid, and in order to communicate with the probe all the panels had to open. “Without the fourth panel opening we couldn’t communicate,” said Sims.
The UK's Space Agency cannot get enough power through to Beagle 2 to command it to do anything, but, according to the prof, there may be some scientific data on the probe.
"It would have tried to turn the cameras on. Unfortunately, those images would be on the lander, potentially in its memory, but we cannot download them," he said. "Images would be there, which makes it even more frustrating."
“We are very confident we have found Beagle 2,” he added, with a number of factors leading the Space Agency to believe the recently released images correlate to the missing probe - such as being a low flat object that does not cast shadows.
"It’s the expected colour, in the expected place,” said Sims, “all of which mean we believe it is Beagle 2.”
Sims said it likely had a hard landing, causing the probe to bounce and therefore fail to properly deploy.
As El Reg reported earlier Friday, the UK Space Agency revealed Beagle 2 had been found.
Intended to be Britain’s first probe to another planet, it was designed to perform experiments to detect signs of alien life on Mars. ®