by Jim Nintzel
As The Range teased yesterday, the UA's HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found the United Kingdom's Beagle, a spacecraft that landed on Mars but was never heard from again.
Daniel Stolte of the UA News Service has details:
On Christmas Day 2003, a kitchen table-size lander descended onto the surface of the red planet on a mission to study the Martian surface and potential clues for life. The probe never called home, and no one knew what happened to it. Until now. The UK-led Beagle 2 Mars Lander, thought lost on Mars since 2003, has been found partially deployed on the surface of the planet, ending the mystery of what happened to the mission more than a decade ago.
Images taken by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or MRO, and initially searched by Michael Croon of Trier, Germany, a former member of the European Space Agency’s Mars Express operations team at the European Space Operations Centre, have identified clear evidence for the lander and convincing evidence for key entry and descent components on the surface of Mars within the expected landing area of Isidis Planitia, an impact basin close to the equator.
This finding shows that the Entry, Descent and Landing, or EDL, sequence for Beagle 2 worked and the lander did successfully touchdown on Mars on Christmas Day 2003.
"We've been looking for all the past landers with HiRISE, this is the first time we found one that didn't send a signal after it landed," said Alfred McEwen, principal investigator of the HiRISE mission and professor in the UA's Lunar and Planetary Lab. "If the landing sequence works correctly, the probe sends a radio signal, and you can use that to pinpoint where it is coming from, even if it broadcasts only very briefly. But in the case of Beagle 2, we didn't get anything. All we had to go by was the target landing area."