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Next Stop Mars!

Status Report From: European Space Agency
Posted: Friday, December 19, 2003

image We have separation! That was the message from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, to announce that the British-built Beagle 2 spacecraft is now flying independently from its Mars Express "mother ship".

Initial confirmation that the separation manoeuvre has been successful came at 10.42 GMT, when Mars Express mission control at ESOC received telemetry data to indicate that electrical disconnection had taken place between Beagle 2 and the orbiter. This was followed at 11.12 GMT by confirmation that the two spacecraft had mechanically separated.

It is hoped that the orbiter's onboard Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) has been able to capture images showing the slowly spinning Beagle 2 pulling away from Mars Express. If all goes well, these images should be available early this afternoon.

"I'd like to congratulate everyone who has been a part of this project, particularly the team that built the Spin up and Eject Mechanism," said UK Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury. "This is an extraordinary example of the best of British engineering as well as the best of British science."

Comparing it to a two-legged soccer match, both of which were being played away, Beagle 2 Lead Scientist Prof. Colin Pillinger said, "We've got a 1-0 result in the first leg, we're playing the second leg on Christmas Day."

The separation manoeuvre involved the use of a spring mechanism to give the lander a gentle push away from the orbiter. Now stabilised as it spins like a top at a rate of 14 rpm, Beagle 2 is pulling ahead of Mars Express at a rate of about 0.3 m/s (1 ft/s).

The separation marked the first key landmark at the beginning of a tense week for the Beagle 2 team. From now on, Beagle 2 will be on its own and looking after itself in terms of stability, power, thermal control and entry sequencing.

Following a carefully targeted ballistic trajectory, the 68.8 kg probe will remain switched off for most of the 5 million kilometre coast phase to Mars. Then, a few hours before entering the Martian atmosphere, an onboard timer will turn on the power and boot up Beagle's computer. Beagle 2 must rely on its own battery until its solar arrays are fully deployed on the surface.

Early on 25 December, Beagle 2 will plunge into the atmosphere at a speed of more than 20 000 km per hour (12,500 mph) before parachuting to its planned landing site, a broad basin close to the Martian equator, known as Isidis Planitia. Later that day, Mars Express should enter orbit around Mars.

Timeline

25th Dec

  • 02:47 GMT Beagle 2 enters Mars atmosphere
  • 02:54 GMT Beagle 2 lands on Mars
  • 03:00 GMT Mars Express orbital insertion
  • 05:15 GMT Mars Odyssey orbiter flies over Beagle 2 - first possible signal retrieval from the lander
  • 07:00 GMT First evaluation of Mars Express orbital insertion
  • 07:15 GMT Sunset on Mars (18:35 local solar time)
  • 20:02 GMT Sunrise on Mars (07:02 local solar time)
  • 22:45 GMT Possible direct capture of Beagle 2 signals at Jodrell Bank Observatory (UK)

26th Dec

  • 07:55 GMT Sunset on Mars (18:36 local solar time)

NOTES FOR EDITORS

Beagle 2 was named to commemorate Charles Darwin's five-year voyage around the world in HMS Beagle (1831-36). The outcome of Darwin's groundbreaking studies, including his observations of the unique wildlife on the Galapagos Islands, was the publication of On the Origin of Species (1859), which described his revolutionary theories of evolution.

Beagle 2 weighs about 68 kg and is 0.95 m in diameter. Attached to ESA's Mars Express spacecraft, it was launched by a Soyuz/Fregat rocket from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 2 June 2003.

By the time it arrives on the Martian surface, Beagle 2 will weigh 33 kg, of which 9 kg will be science instruments. This is the most ambitious experiment package ever flown in space.

Contacts

All media enquiries up until 24th December to:-

Peter Barratt
Tel: 01793 442025
Mobile: 0787 9602899
Email: peter.barratt@pparc.ac.uk

Gill Ormrod
Tel: 01793 442012
Mobile: 0781 8013509
Email: gill.ormrod@pparc.ac.uk

Julia Maddock
Tel: 01793 442094
Mobile: 07901 514975
Email: julia.maddock@pparc.ac.uk

Please note that from 2300 hours on 24th December 2003 the Beagle 2 Media Centre will operate from:-

The Open University - Camden Offices
1-11 Hawley Crescent
Camden, London NW1 8NP
Tel: 01908 332015/01908 332017
Fax: 01908 332016

For further details on Mars Express and Beagle 2 see the following websites:-

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