:: current press releases
Beagle 2 Press Briefings
Released 19th December 2003
Please follow the press releases of the Beagle 2 project on the PPARC website.
See PPARC press releases
Mars Express / Beagle 2
Released 31st October 2003
The media are invited to a briefing at 10am, on 11th November 2003, at the Royal Society, London for a status report on the mission and details of upcoming news events.
Journalists wishing to attend are requested to register in advance by contacting:
Beagle 2 Project Communications Manager
telephone +44 (0) 1793 442025
email [email protected]
See PPARC press release for more information
Beagle 2 Parachute Testing Successful
Released October 2002
The Beagle 2 main parachute supplied by Lindstrand Balloons was successfully deployed at dawn this morning near Oswestry as final testing to demonstrate suitability of new materials and manufacturing processes.
A follow up media briefing on the status of the Beagle 2 programme took place at Astrium Ltd incuding a film of the parachute test and other aspects of the mission. Members of the team were available for interview.
Notes to Editors
Ms Camilla Fisher
Gunnels Wood Road
telephone +44 (0) 1438 773854
fax +44 (0) 1438 778911
email [email protected]
See Astrium report (PDF 84Kb)
Lindstrand Balloons joins Beagle 2 team
Released September 2002
World famous balloonist Per Lindstrand has brought his high-flying team on board with Beagle 2. His internationally acclaimed Lindstrand Balloons Limited has been named by lead industrial contractor Astrium (Stevenage) as a key member of the industrial team which will work together on the Mars craft's landing system.
The announcement that the world famous aeronaut is to join the Beagle 2 project was made following exhaustive development tests on components of the craft's landing system - crucial to ensure Beagle's payload arrives safely on the planet's surface.
A crack team of parachute designers has been assembled by Astrium, with the assistance of another Stevenage company, Analyticon Ltd, to come up with the solution. Lindstrand Balloons, with their vast experience of textile engineering, will convert the design into flight models of the main parachute that will be released after the small pilot 'chute has been deployed to pull away the protective back cover. Another member of the parachute team is Irvin Aerospace Inc of California who will be performing aircraft drop tests in the hot, dry climate of Arizona.
Use of a special lightweight material means that Lindstrand can make a much larger parachute for the same mass allowance thus slowing down the probe more. "The slower the better" commented Colin Pillinger, project leader, whose precious instrument package on board Beagle 2 must survive the landing.
Per Lindstrand, the first man to fly a hot air balloon across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and to the edge of space (his 1988 world altitude record flight to 20,000 metres still stands to this day), said of his company's recruitment to the Beagle 2 team:- "We are proud to be involved with this exciting project.
"As a company at the cutting edge of technology we have been highly successful in developing new fabrics and new designs for hot air balloons, gas airships and other lighter-than-air craft. We are excited at the prospect of being able to use the expertise gained in meeting challenges on Earth to help Beagle 2 land on another planet."
Notes to Editors
Lindstrand Balloons Ltd
For further information contact Dr Ian Stewart
telephone +44 (0) 1691 671888
fax +44 (0) 1691 679991
email [email protected]
The first parachute is already in manufacture in the Oswestry factory, only weeks after the teams started work. Image available on request to Beagle 2 office.
New Boost in Hunt for Life on Mars
Released May 2002
The Wellcome Trust biomedical research charity has agreed to help finance a vital piece of equipment on board Beagle 2 which will be looking for traces of life on Mars - and could lead to the development of new medical instruments.
The mission to the red planet, which has been masterminded by a team of scientists based at the Open University in Milton Keynes, will be launched in a year's time (May 23rd 2003) from Kazakhstan.
Beagle 2 will land on Mars around Christmas and during the ensuing weeks will hopefully collect enough evidence to indicate if life has ever existed there.
The Wellcome Trust is providing �2.6m to pay for the construction of a miniaturised version of a mass spectrometer and 12-oven, 31-valve gas analysis package. This highly sophisticated "cooking kit" identifies atoms and isotopes and will determine the chemical composition of samples.
If the resulting information reveals that the element carbon has undergone biological processing this could point to some form of life once having been on Mars. The package can also detect trace gases in the atmosphere which are the tell-tale signs of current life. The funds will allow the team to explore possible medical uses and develop versions of the instrumentation for clinical applications.
Professor Colin Pillinger, head of the Planetary Space and Sciences Research Institute at the Open University, said: "One of the biggest challenges of Beagle 2 has been to compress all the paraphernalia which normally fills half a room and make it fit inside the lander."
"We've had to reduce the whole package including the mass spectrometer to something weighing around five kilos which is a bit like reducing your family saloon to a glove compartment. But while developing the idea we began to realise all the possible applications which might exist especially in medical areas where instruments need to be small, portable, robust and sterile."
"We began to think about the "personal" mass spectrometer, a sort of mobile phone for analysts and we are delighted that the Wellcome Trust has had the vision to back this concept."
Dr. Michael Dexter, Director of Wellcome Trust said: "There could well be some medical spin-offs from the miniaturisation of the mass spectrometer that will be extremely useful, if it allows the technology to move from the lab into a range of clinical settings."
"But if biology is not unique to our planet, what we might learn from life that has arisen elsewhere could challenge some of our most basic assumptions. The finding of life beyond our stratosphere would be as spectacular and thought-provoking as Darwin's theory of evolution, which resulted from the exploits of the original Beagle."
"This is beyond blue skies research and with such a voyage of discovery many novel ideas are bound to emerge."
Notes to Editors
Barry Gardner, Wellcome Trust Press Office. 0207 611 7329. [email protected]. website: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk
The Wellcome Trust is an independent research-funding charity, established under the will of Sir Henry Wellcome in 1936. It is funded from a private endowment, which is managed with long-term stability and growth in mind.
The Trust's mission is to promote research with the aim of improving human and animal health.
HMS Beagle & Beagle 2 at National Maritime Museum
Released March 2002
In December 2002, a new exhibition linking two great voyages of exploration will open at the National Maritime Museum. The Beagle 2 mission to Mars is the inspiration for an exhibition linking this voyage back to Charles Darwin's voyage of exploration in HMS Beagle in the early 19th century. Both 'Beagles' represent the state-of the-art in the field of exploration. The exhibition will also trace the various ships which have carried the name Beagle across the globe.
"It's a wild scheme, nothing will come of it" young Charles Darwin was told as he planned to set sail aboard HMS Beagle in the 1830s. The outcome of the voyage, Darwin's theory of evolution, is well known, but the ship herself has attracted less attention. The exhibition will feature items from the collections of the National Maritime Museum and other important sources, including some private ones, which have not been on public display before.
The name Beagle is synonymous with the British tradition for exploration and was an obvious choice for the forthcoming voyage to Mars. Beagle 2 will be launched to the red planet in May 2003, land around Christmas time and analyse samples to seek signs of past or present life as part of the European Space Agency Mars Express mission.
Beagle 2 Lead Scientist, Professor Colin Pillinger, said 'We named the Mars lander in honour of HMS Beagle and we are delighted to be able to work with the National Maritime Museum to show how the challenges faced nearly two hundred years ago are not so different now as we attempt to extend our horizons'.
Roy Clare, Director of the National Maritime Museum, which includes the Royal Observatory, said 'The exhibition will bring together our two sites to produce an exciting show reflecting the influence of great voyages, like that of the original Beagle, on today's space exploration.'
Notes to Editors
For information about the National Maritime Museum and the exhibition please contact the Press Office on 020 8312 6545/6790/6732 or email [email protected].
Wired for Sound
Released 31 January 2002
Beagle 2 will be rocking on Mars at the end of December 2003.
In 1999 the band Blur composed a special track for the Beagle 2 mission. A piece of the music will act as the call sign to tell the world when the spacecraft lands on Mars. The haunting refrain will be the first music beamed back to Earth from another planet. The track was released conventionally on a CD but yesterday, in a music studio in West London, a unique recording session took place.
The band joined together with software engineer Roger Ward from Science Systems (Space) Ltd. and mission leader Professor Colin Pillinger to programme the same music into the source code so that all communications from the lander will carry this signal as the header. When on the surface of Mars, Beagle 2 will communicate with Earth via the ESA Mars Express satellite which will remain in orbit and also NASA's Odyssey.
The musical signal actually comprises a series of 9 notes, sounding rather like a mobile ring tone. The software destined to go onboard the lander was coded by entering a single bit for each frequency and the messages from Mars will be decoded to reveal the Blur composition.
Speaking on Radio 4 Today ahead of the recording session, Blur's Alex James explained that the notes which make up the call sign are loosely based on a Fibonacci sequence. "A mathematical sequence of notes with a little bit of artistic interpretation" Alex told News 24 adding "you have to be quite tasteful when you're going into space - its a massive nature reserve" whilst BBC's 1 o'clock presenter Emma Simpson said "with Blur's help this will be the hippest ever venture to another planet".
Notes to Editors
Science Systems, the ICT software specialist, is responsible for providing the lander on-board software. The software developed will control all operations of the lander on the surface of Mars, executing the experiments and sending back data to the Operations Centre. For more information on Science Systems please contact the Marketing Department on 01249 466466 or visit the web site at www.scisys.co.uk
Project Overview Meeting
Released 30 November 2001
Beagle 2 is holding a meeting to bring together all the instrument scientists and the engineers to hear keynote overviews about all aspects of the project as we enter the last year of building and testing the lander.
The meeting is open to members of the media who wish to keep up to date with the achievements so far and the challenges for the months to come. A summary of the meeting will be available on request later in the week.
Beagle 2 Consortium Meeting and Project Social Event; Monday 3 December, 10.30 start; Open University, Milton Keynes; Berrill Lecture Theatre
Please inform Professor Pillinger if you plan to join us or wish to receive a summary following the meeting. The agenda is below.
Agenda: Beagle 2 Consortium Meeting and Project Status Summaries
11.00 Welcome and Introduction, Colin Pillinger
11.15 Project Overview, Mark Sims
11.45 Lander Systems, Jim Clemmet
12.15 Landing Site, Dave Rothery
Viewing of the documentary Beagle 2 - Mission to Mars (first broadcast BBC 2 July) in Berrill Theatre 1pm start to 1.40
2.00 Entry Systems plus SUEM, John Underwood
2.30 Instrument Status, Derek Pullan, GAP Status, Mark Leese
3.00 Sample Handling, Lutz Richter
4.00 Ground Systems Status, Mark Sims
4.30 Planetary Protection and wind up, Colin Pillinger
BBC TWO follows mission to Mars
Released 10 July 2001
Professor Colin Pillinger is a man with a mission� a mission to Mars! He's come a long way, but still has a mammoth journey ahead of him. BBC cameras have followed his story for over two years for a film, Beagle 2: Mission to Mars to be shown on Monday 23rd July at 11.20pm (BBC TWO).
Colin Pillinger, one of the world's leading planetary scientists, is based at the Open University in Milton Keynes. In 1997 he heard about European Space Agency (ESA) plans to send a space craft - Mars Express - to the red planet, leaving Earth in June 2003. Pillinger had a fantastic idea - to hitch a 250 million-mile-lift on Mars Express for a small lander which could be launched onto the planet. Once there it would conduct a series of pioneering experiments to look for evidence of life. This is the most important space project originating in Britain for decades and, if successful, will go down in history. Beagle 2: Mission to Mars reveals how a massive science project, such as this, comes to fruition.
Presented by Keith Allen, the programme reveals the trials and tribulations of Beagle 2 as the BBC follows the team's progress as they strive to advance science and develop the ground-breaking technology which will enable them to realise their mission.
Inspired by the voyage of HMS Beagle, whose five year journey in the 1830s was key to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution on Earth, Pillinger calls his lander Beagle 2. He hopes it will enable him to take Darwin's theory one stage further to answer the question, 'Are we alone in the universe?' Naming the project, though, is the least of Colin's problems. Crucially, he must convince ESA that they should take the lander. Whilst awaiting their response, and with time at a premium, he continues the impossibly difficult task of working out how to reduce a whole laboratory full of state-of-the-art experiments down to the size of a garden barbecue which must weigh no more than 60 kg! Help is needed - a lot of it - to make it all a reality.
Not solely preoccupied with the technical issues, Colin comments "We're trying to use this as a vehicle that� promotes science, engineering and education as well. If you win the World Cup everybody wants to be a footballer. So, if Beagle 2 lands on Mars people will think doing space research in Britain can't be bad either!"
The team, which includes Mission Manager Mark Sims of the University of Leicester and Engineering Manager Jim Clemmet of Astrium, are unfailing in their determination and dedication to the project. Many are even working 'free of charge'. Pillinger knows that their ideas mean nothing, though, if there is no money to fund the expertise. The cameras trail him as he goes about trying to raise the profile of Beagle 2 in order to secure the much needed cash, without which this UK born and bred mission won't get off the ground - literally. �5 million of Government funding gets Beagle 2 off the drawing board and into development, but space travel requires much more money than this.
From TV interviews and press conferences to exhibits at the Chelsea Flower Show and appearances in pop videos, Pillinger is tireless in his fund-raising efforts. MPs raise his case for further backing in Parliament. Celebrities, from artists to popstars, get on board. Damien Hirst is designing a spot painting to be used to calibrate the equipment. Rock band Blur compose a call sign which will be transmitted back to Earth once Beagle 2 has landed, thanks to the interest of drummer Dave Rowntree and bassist Alex James.
Alex James comments: "[The call sign] is built around a mathematical series� an interpretation of a harmonic series of notes. [Music] is just science really."
Dave Rowntree is more down to Earth in comparing Beagle 2's expenditure so far (�5 million) to that of NASA (billions!). "You couldn't buy a screwdriver in NASA for that".
Missions to Mars are not for the faint-hearted, but Pillinger and his team refuse to give up. In the final scenes the Government announces a plan to underwrite the costs. Great news - Beagle 2 is definitely going to Mars.
The broadcast of Beagle 2: Mission to Mars coincides with the 25th anniversary of the first ever Viking mission to Mars. To commemorate this, Colin Pillinger will be taking part in Viking On Mars on Radio 4 (Saturday 28 July, 8-9pm).
Beagle 2: Mission to Mars is an Open University production for BBC TWO. The Executive Producer is Steve Wilkinson.
For more information, please contact Kate Adam, BBC Publicity, on:
tel : 020 8752 6050
email : [email protected]
web : www.bbc.co.uk/space
Pictures are available from Julian Wyth on 020 8225 7456.
Notes to Editors
NASA's project, Viking, placed two landers to search for life on Mars in 1976. The results were tantalising. However it was concluded that what might appear to be biological was a chemical effect.
Professor Colin Pillinger, leader of the Beagle 2 project, is based at the Open University in Milton Keynes. His team includes Mission Manager Mark Sims from University of Leicester and Engineering Manager, Jim Clemmet of Astrium (formerly Matra Marconi Space), the prime industrial contractor.
Mars Express began as a recovery mission to launch spare parts that were available after a similar Russian mission failed. It is the first time Europe and, therefore ESA, has sent a spacecraft to another planet. The launch date is planned to take advantage of a particularly close line up of Earth and Mars in 2003. Beagle 2 is scheduled to land on Mars at around Xmas 2003.
Protecting the Planet
B2 PS21 - Released 19 June 2001
When Beagle 2 lands on Mars in 2003 it must not infect the red planet with Earth organisms. We are therefore developing methods which destroy microbes without damaging the sensitive equipment.
The first item selected for testing was the flight spare of the stereo camera pair. Tests confirmed that it still worked correctly after treatment to reduce the microbial contamination to a sufficiently low level. The two cameras, which will provide the eyes of Beagle 2, can now safely be treated in the same way.
Sterilisation of all parts of the lander is necessary to ensure that Beagle 2 does not inadvertently contaminate Mars with Earth microorganisms, thus meeting the internationally agreed requirements for Planetary Protection. Additionally the instrument designed to detect the chemical signs of life, past or present, on Mars, is so sensitive that the remains of sterilised microorganisms must be removed from areas which will come into contact with the samples of soil and rock to be analysed in the on-board laboratory.
Many of the lander components will be heated at high temperatures for a considerable time to destroy microbial contaminants, but the team is also investigating how newer methods of sterilisation can be employed. The camera, about the size of a 13amp plug, was treated by a combination of hydrogen peroxide vapour and low-temperature gas plasma in a commercial facility used for the routine sterilisation of medial instruments, courtesy of the Sterile Services Department of Leeds General Infirmary.
Work has started on a state-of-the-art spacecraft operating theatre-style facility at the Open University in which the components will be assembled in ultra clean conditions to maintain the sterility achieved by various pre-treatments.
Notes to Editors
Planetary Protection regulations come under the auspices of COSPAR, the Committee on Space Research, to which nations are signatories through their learned scientific societies.
The Beagle 2 camera team is headed by the Mullard Space Sciences Laboratory. The stereo cameras will be mounted on the PAW under the direction of the Space Research Centre of the University of Leicester. Partial funding for the instruments comes from the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.
Returned samples from Mars ? ... Science for the Future ...
B2 PS19 - Released 21 March 2001
Could Britain play a leading part in returning samples from Mars ? With Beagle 2 already leading the race to discover life, could a wider cross-section of the Planetary Sciences community help unlock all the secrets of the red planet? During the week dedicated to promoting science in the UK, an elite interdisciplinary group of scientists and engineers are meeting on Friday 23rd March at the Royal Society, Carlton House Terrace, London to consider:
the technical feasibility of bringing back a few hundred grams of Mars
the scientific gains to be made from bringing to bear contemporary laboratory methods capable of carrying out a grain by grain analysis
The meeting has attracted support from chemists, physicists, geologists, biologists and astronomers. In particular many of the younger generation will be leading the discussions.
The media are invited to come to all or part of the meeting but please let us know in advance as numbers are limited by the facilities available. The draft programme is attached.
After Beagle 2 - what next ??
Within a couple of years the European Space Agency (ESA) will have carried out all its scheduled launches to targets within the Solar System. It is now considering the options for a future programme to place before the Council of Ministers to be held in Edinburgh in November. Having begun to explore Mars in 2003, with the Mars Express orbiter and its lander Beagle 2, ESA must make decisions about a continuing involvement in the investigation of our nearest planetary neighbour.
If Mars becomes the focus of a major new initiative, the most obvious goal would be one which returned material to Earth. A whole range of sophisticated ground-based instruments, the most modern microscopes and microprobes, dating methods, element and isotope techniques, would thus be able to provide information about the past, present and future of a place which is still almost a complete mystery despite myriads of the most detailed and tantalising pictures. Mars sample return is within the capabilities of ESA and its member states. With no firm decisions made by NASA beyond another orbiter in 2005, a European commitment to sample return within a decade would be the next logical step.
And now for an eclipse on Mars
B2 PS18 - Released 10 January 2001
After a spectacular show last night when our moon was shadowed by the Earth, we can reveal that a moon of Mars, Phobos, will cast a shadow over Beagle 2 as it sits on the surface of Mars. What's more the eclipse will allow us to pinpoint the place where the Beagle 2 has landed.
Around February 2004, a month or so after Beagle 2 reaches the surface of Mars after a 6 month journey aboard the ESA Mars Express, the shadow of Phobos will pass repeatedly over the landing site in the Isidis Basin. The reduction in light as Beagle 2 is shadowed will be recorded by on-board detectors which form part of the environmental sensors package of the scientific payload. The plan was put forward by Dr A. Christou from the Surrey Space Centre who said "that the timing of the events when the lander is in the shadow will allow computation of the position of Beagle with an accuracy of at least 10 and possibly 100 times greater than the current uncertainty".
Various instruments on the Mars Express orbiting platform will be able to focus their attention on the landing site to maximise the science return; for example accurate determination of the landed position of Beagle 2 will help the high resolution camera on the orbiter to image the landing site.
Beagle 2 Lead Scientist Colin Pillinger said "This is one eclipse we will really be waiting for. It is a very neat way of increasing even further the scientific return from Beagle 2 without any additional call on the very limited mass and power budget of the lander"
Notes to Editors
The two tiny satellites of Mars were discovered during the Mars Earth opposition of 1877 by American astronomer Asaph Hall at the Naval Observatory in Washington. They were named Phobos and Deimos after the horses which pulled the god Mars' chariot in Homer's Iliad. Phobos measures 16.8 x 13.7 x 11.2 miles and orbits at a height of only ca. 3700 miles (little more than the distance from the UK to the USA) above the surface of Mars. Its period is 7h 39m and as the martian surface rotates under it, it appears to rise from the west and set in the east twice a day on average. Mars' other satellite, Deimos, is even smaller at only 9.3 x 7.5 x 6.2 miles, and 12000 miles above Mars. Phobos is not large enough to totally eclipse the Sun but will reduce light levels. Deimos, appearing about the size of Venus from Earth has virtually no effect. Both moons undergo enormous numbers of eclipses as the shadow of Mars blacks out their light, in the case of Phobos some 1300 times a year. Interestingly Phobos can also eclipse Deimos.
The Landing Site: the Beagle 2 landing site on Isidis Planitia has been selected (and will be confirmed shortly) as it offers a location which was most likely a sedimentary basin, the type of environment which offers the best chance of finding the chemical remains of past microbial life. In addition the area has enough rocks and boulders for analysis but is not so rough that it would pose a danger to the gas filled bags as they bounce Beagle 2 safely down to rest. With a low elevation of the Plain, the parachute landing system will benefit from the maximum atmosphere to aid the landing. The location is not at too high a latitude ensuring that the spring temperature of Mars will not be too cold for the lander instruments to function. As John Bridges from the Natural History Museum who is part of the landing site selection team summarised "This is the best site given the landing constraints and scientific aims of Beagle 2".
Life in the Fast Lane with McLaren
B2 PS14 - Released 5 April 2000
Beagle 2's mission to detect life on Mars is to be further boosted by the expertise of McLaren Composites who operate in the high tech world of Formula 1 motor racing. Similar technology and materials used to protect F1 drivers in 200 mph crashes will be used to protect the payload of the Beagle 2 lander from the impact with the martian surface.
McLaren Composites, the specialised technology arm of TAG McLaren Group and Matra Marconi Space are joining forces to implement innovative solutions to the design and manufacture of the landing spacecraft.
As the McLaren company moves into space for the first time, Beagle 2's Professor Colin Pillinger said: "After the recent failures of other space missions we will be restoring public confidence by working with a company, McLaren, that everyone recognises as a byword for high tech, strength and safety. Its great to have another British cutting-edge technology company involved."
The press release from McLaren Composites is also available.
New images of the current lander configuration are available in the photo album section.
Notes to Editors
Beagle 2 will be launched in June 2003 as part of the European Space Agency (ESA) Mars Express Mission. As Mars Express approaches Mars at the end of 2003, Beagle 2 will be ejected from the orbiter and land on the surface of the planet. The instrument package on board Beagle 2 will analyse samples of martian rock, soil and atmosphere to seek for signs or past or present life on the planet. The Beagle 2 project is led by the Open University, University of Leicester, Matra Marconi Space Stevenage and Martin-Baker Aircraft Company.
Specific technical questions on the lander structure can be addressed to John Thatcher (Matra Marconi Space). Telephone 01438 313456.
For more information on McLaren Composites please contact Martin O'Connor, Director of McLaren Composites Ltd. Telephone 01483 440509.
The TAG McLaren Group web site is at http://www.mclaren.net.