Scientists claim that European Space Agency’s (ESA) Beagle 2 Mars lander may have landed successfully and not crash landed as it has been believed until now.
De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) and the University of Leicester researchers collaborated for an innovative research technique to determine what actually happened to the Beagle 2 lander and what caused the failure of its communications link with its parent spacecraft. Researchers suggest that the lander didn’t crash land, but instead land successfully and even deployed at least three of the solar panels it was supposed to after touching down on the planet’s surface.
Researchers suggests based on their findings that the antenna on Beagle 2 may even have been transmitting messages as planned, but the signal couldn’t make it through because the fourth panel had not opened properly.
Beagle 2 was successfully ejected from ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft on 19 December 2003 but failed to send a signal on Christmas Day – its scheduled landing day on Mars. The mission presumed that the lander crash landed and was destroyed; however, a decade later images of the lander by NASA’s MRO revealed that the lander was in fact resting on the Red Planet and that the old theory of it being destroyed completely might not be true. But because the resolution of the camera on board the MRO wasn’t high enough to capture the Beagle 2 in much more detail, the what happened to the lander couldn’t be determined.
Researchers at the two universities suggest that there is more to the Beagle 2 story than we know and that’s why they took up the research to find answers to questions still unanswered. Professor Mark Sims, former Beagle 2 Mission Manager and Professor of Astrobiology and Space Instrumentation at the University of Leicester came up with the concept of “reflection analysis” – of matching simulated and real images of Beagle 2. The technique is based on simulating possible configurations of the lander on the surface and comparing the light of the Sun reflected by the simulated lander with the unprocessed images available from the HiRISE camera at a number of different sun angles.
Professor Sims collaborated with colleagues at DMU to realise his concept and ended up adapting commercially available software to suit their analysis. Visualisation specialist Teodora Kuzmanova at DMU created a physically accurate 3D model of the Beagle 2 Mars Lander with surfaces that would accurately reflect virtual sunlight. They simulated the angle of the Sun along with position of a virtual camera that could take pictures equivalent to NASA’s Reconnaissance Orbiter. Finally these images had to be pixelated to match the resolution of the Orbiter’s images.
Findings indicate that antenna transmission would probably have been hampered by one of the panels failing to unfold correctly, confirming the previously supposed theory.