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Beagle 2 leaves the UK to join Mars Express for mission to red planet

Press Release From: British National Space Centre
Posted: Thursday, February 27, 2003

Lord Sainsbury praises UK role in voyage to look for signs of life on Mars Science Minister Lord Sainsbury today praised UK scientists and industry for their role in the successful completion of work on the Beagle 2 probe to Mars. The lander is today en route to Astrium, in Toulouse, France, where it will be fitted to the Mars Express orbiter.

The European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft will then be taken to Baikonur, in Kazakhstan, where it will blast-off on a Soyuz-Fregat launcher this summer on a sixmonth voyage to the Red Planet.

Lord Sainsbury said:

"The successful completion of Beagle 2 is a tribute to the vision of the UK science community, the technical know-how of engineers from British industry and the faith of our European partners."

"“This is an important milestone in the history of the development of the Beagle 2 lander. With it, the UK is playing a major role in the European Space Agency’s mission to Mars. Today marks the beginning of the next phase in this exciting project."

Beagle 2 is designed to look for signs of life on Mars. It will be ejected from the orbiter and parachute down to the surface of the planet. On touchdown, it will deploy its robotic arm and paw which includes a mole to burrow into the ground and collect soil samples. These will be analysed for signs of past and present biological activity using the innovative Gas Analysis Package (GAP) developed by Professor Colin Pillinger’s team at the Open University.

The lander is also packing a suite of instruments that will measure the weather, including temperature, pressure and wind.

The Beagle 2 project is headed by the Open University, which has provided the science lead, and Astrium, which is the prime industrial contractor. It involves a consortium of academic institutions and industrial subcontractors, and is funded by a unique public/private partnership.

The Mars Express spacecraft, part of ESA’s Horizons 2000 programme, is designed to take a payload of seven state-of-the-art scientific instruments to orbit Mars as well as the Beagle 2 lander. The orbiter instruments will record data for at least one Martian year, or 687 Earth days; Beagle 2 is designed to work for 180 Earth days. The satellite will also carry a data relay system for communicating with Earth, including the transfer of command and science data to and from Beagle 2.

Beagle 2 and Mars Express will undergo final tests at Toulouse. It is expected that the spacecraft will then be sent to Baikonur next month.

Notes to Editors

1. The lander is funded through a partnership arrangement involving the Open University, Astrium, the DTI, the Particle Physics and Astronomy research Council (PPARC), the Office of Science and Technology and the ESA, with the PPARC additionally providing part support for the mission instruments. Principal Investigators for Beagle 2 come from the Open University (Gas Analysis Package),

Leicester University (Environmental Sensors and the X-Ray Spectrometer) and Mullard Space Science Laboratory (Imaging Systems). 2.

For more information on Beagle 2, contact:

  • Professor Colin Pillinger FRS
  • The Open University
  • Tel: +44 (0)1908 655169
  • Fax: +44 (0)1908 655910
  • Email: psrg@open.ac.uk
  • Internet: www.beagle2.com
  • Press Enquiries: 020 7215 0806/0905
  • (Out of Hours: 020 7215 3234/3505)
  • Public Enquiries: 020 7215 5000
  • Textphone (for people with hearing impairments): 020 7215 6740
  • http://www.bnsc.gov.uk

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