Lost, presumed crashed, the Beagle-2 lander is finally located on Mars.
Back in December 2003 a bold and decidedly British robotic device was released from the European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express orbiter. The $120 million Beagle-2 lander was designed to plunge through the martian atmosphere and parachute down to the surface. Once there it would pop open a lid to reveal a suite of science instruments, with the lid in turn opening up four solar panels, all laying flat on the ground. With a robotic arm and a small 'mole' for getting subsurface samples, Beagle-2's primary science goals were to study martian geology, chemistry, and to sniff for isotopic signatures of life.
Weighing in at about 33 kilos and only about 2 meters across when deployed, Beagle-2 was a mere puppy of a Mars explorer.
Sadly, things did not play out as hoped. Radio signals from the lander were not heard, and the mission was considered a failure - having either crashed into Mars, or simply not deploying after landing.
Now, more than a decade on, ESA has released what appears to be good photographic evidence for Beagle-2 on the surface of Mars. Using high-resolution imaging from Mars Express, the final resting place has been pinpointed. Separated by a few hundred meters are plausible sightings of a partially opened lander, its atmospheric entry back-shell, and parachute remains.
Although at the limits of the imaging resolution it seems likely that not all of the solar panel 'petals' managed to open, potentially blocking the folded radio antennae on the lander.
It's a bittersweet moment. The Beagle-2's mastermind, the scientist Colin Pillinger, sadly passed away in 2014, not knowing the true fate of the mission.
But the positive ending to the story is that for the most part the atmospheric entry and landing was indeed successful - putting the lander down in the right place - this information adds to the body of knowledge on engineering Mars landings, which are among the most difficult extraterrestrial maneuvers ever undertaken.