NASA MRO Spots Long-Lost Mars Lander, Beagle 2

First Posted: Jan 18, 2015 06:04 PM EST

A NASA orbiter has spotted a long-lost Mars lander. Images taken by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) show that the UK-led Beagle 2 Mars Lander can still be found on the Red Planet.

"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, in a news release. "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."

Beagle 2 was lost following its landing timed for Dec. 25, 2003. Yet the latest images show that the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) sequence for Beagle 2 worked.

That said, the imaging data may be consistent with only a partial deployment of Beagle 2 following landing. This would explain why no signal or data was received from the lander, since full deployment of all solar panels was needed to expose the RF antenna, which would transmit data and receive commands from Earth via orbiting Mars spacecraft.

Beagle 2 was part of the ESA Mars Express Mission that launched in June 2003. Mars Express is actually still orbiting the Red Planet and returning scientific data to Earth. While Beagle 2 was successfully ejected from Mars Express, ESA lost contact with it.

Now, NASA's orbiter shows researchers exactly what happened to Beagle 2. Currently, MRO is continuing to survey Mars to search for other spacecraft that have been deployed to the surface.

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