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The Beagle 2 lander was a British made lander that was launched to Mars aboard the European Space Agency(ESA) Mars Express mission from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on June 2, 2003. Contact with the lander was not established after it separated from the Mars Express. Later investigation suggested that the lander reached Mars, but was damaged due to a harder than expected impact.
The lander was designed to search for signs of past or present life on Mars. A carefully chosen landing site at 10.6°N, 270°W in Isidis Planitia was targeted because of it is a large flat sedimentary basin. The lander was built to operate for about 180 days, but designers thought it might operate for a full Martian year(687 Earth days) if the mission were to be extended. The lander’s defined objectives included: explore the landing site by characterizing its geology, mineralogy, geochemistry, and state of oxidation; assess the physical properties of the atmosphere and surface; collect data about Martian climatology and meteorology all the while looking for signs of life.
The lander was shaped like a shallow bowl and had a diameter of 1 m and was 0.25 m deep. The cover of the lander opened to expose four solar arrays. Inside the lander were a UHF antenna, the robotic arm, and the scientific equipment. The main body also contained the battery, communications electronics, the central processor, heaters, and radiation and oxidation sensors. The lander package had a mass of 33.2 kg at touchdown after shedding 30 kg of ablative heat shield.
The Beagle 2 lander was equipped with a robotic arm called the Payload Adjustable Workbench (PAW). PAW was designed to be extended after landing and contained a pair of stereo cameras, a 6 mm resolution microscope, a Mossbauer spectrometer, an X-ray spectrometer, a drill to collect samples, and a spotlight. Had the lander been operational, PAW would have placed rock samples into the Gas Analysis Package(GAP), which consisted of a mass spectrometer and gas chromatograph Gap would have measured the relative proportions of carbon isotopes. Our understanding of life indicates that carbon is the basis of all life; therefore, these readings could have revealed the remnants of living organisms.
Another tool on the lander was the Planetary Undersurface Tool(PLUTO), which was to be deployed by PAW. PLUTO was equipped with a compressed spring mechanism that would have allowed it to move across the surface and burrow into the ground, collecting a subsurface sample. It would then be pulled back to the lander by the attached power cable.
In December of 2005, images from the Mars Global Surveyor were thought to show the Beagle 2 lander in a crater on Isidis Planitia; however, images from the HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance showed that the crater was empty.
We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Missions to Mars. Listen here, Episode 93: Missions to Mars, Part 2.