Public Release: 

UK-led Beagle 2 Lander found on Mars

Beagle 2 successfully landed on Mars on Dec. 25, 2003

University of Leicester


IMAGE: This is a color image of Beagle 2 Lander on Mars. view more

Credit: HIRISE/NASA/Leicester

The UK-led Beagle 2 Mars Lander, thought lost on Mars since 2003, has been found partially deployed on the surface of the planet, ending the mystery of what happened to the mission more than a decade ago. This find shows that the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) sequence for Beagle 2 worked and the lander did successfully touchdown on Mars on Christmas Day 2003. Beagle 2 hitched a ride to Mars on ESA's Mars Express mission and was a collaboration between industry and academia. It would have delivered world-class science from the surface of the Red Planet. Many UK academic groups and industrial companies contributed to Beagle 2.

Images taken by the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and initially searched by Michael Croon of Trier, Germany, a former member of ESA's Mars Express operations team at ESOC, have identified clear evidence for the lander and convincing evidence for key entry and descent components on the surface of Mars within the expected landing area of Isidis Planitia (an impact basin close to the equator).

Since the loss of Beagle 2 following its landing on Christmas Day 2003, Michael has, in parallel with members of the Beagle 2 industrial and scientific teams, been patiently screening images from HiRISE looking for signs of Beagle 2. Subsequent re-imaging and analysis by the Beagle 2 team, HiRISE team and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has confirmed that the targets discovered, are of the correct size, shape, colour and dispersion (i.e. separation) to be Beagle 2.

The images, following analysis by members of the Beagle 2 team and NASA, show the Beagle 2 lander in what appears to be a partially deployed configuration, with what is thought to be the rear cover with its pilot/drogue chute (still attached) and main parachute close by. Due to the small size of Beagle 2 (less than 2m across for the deployed lander) it is right at the limit of detection of imaging systems (cameras) orbiting Mars. The targets are within the expected landing area at a distance of ~5km from its centre.

Several interpretations of the image of the lander have been identified, consistent with the lander's size and shape. The imaging data is however consistent with only a partial deployment following landing. This would explain why no signal or data was received from the lander - as full deployment of all solar panels was needed to expose the RF antenna which would transmit data and receive commands from Earth.

Unfortunately given the partial deployment (and covering of the RF antenna) it would not be possible to revive Beagle 2 and recover data from it.

Professor Colin Pillinger from the Open University who led the Beagle 2 project with inspirational enthusiasm died in May 2014. Others that provided major contributions to Beagle 2 were Professor George Fraser of the University of Leicester and Professor David Barnes of Aberystwyth University who also died in 2014.


Notes to Editors


Julia Short
Press Officer
UK Space Agency
Tel: +44 (0)1793 418069

Matthew Goodman
Head of Communications
Tel 01793 41 8085

Ather Mirza
Director of the News Centre
University of Leicester
T: +44(0)116 252 3335

Professor Mark Sims
Professor of Astrobiology and Space Instrumentation
Interim Director of Space Research Centre
Co-Director Diagnostics Development Unit
Space Research Centre
University of Leicester

Dr Jim Clemmet
Phone: 01767 314126

Dr John Bridges
Reader in Planetary Science
Space Research Centre
Dept. of Physics and Astronomy
University of Leicester
Tel: +44 (0)116 252 2007

Images, Beagle 2 B-roll, video interview and background briefing are available on the following link:

Image credits

Animated Grey scale (red band image) cycling through 3 images of landing site targets showing changes due to Sun Angle and time
(Image: b2_animated_zoom_wb_label_ack.gif)
Credit: HIRISE/NASA/Leicester

Colour image of Beagle 2 Lander on Mars (Image:Beagle_colour_sharpened_LRGB_3frms_12pt5cmp_crop_lander_lighten_labelled.tif)
Credit: HIRISE/NASA/Leicester

Labelled grey scale (red band) of Beagle 2 components on Mars
(Image: HiRISE_ESP_037145_1915_RED_forgif3_wb_labelled_edited-1_lighter_edited-1_qm_edited-1.tif)
Credit: University of Leicester/ Beagle 2/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Close-up grey scale (red band) sharpened image of Beagle 2 Lander Target
(Image: Beagle_sharpened b_w image_Right_Bright_obj_300percent_sharp_edited-1_labelled.tif)
Credit: HiRISE/NASA/JPL/Parker/Leicester

Labelled overlay of Beagle 2 on Lander Target
(Image: Beagle 2 Overlay)
Credit: University of Leicester/ Beagle 2/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Graphic diagram showing EDL Sequence*
(Image: 3.1 EDSL)
Credit: Beagle 2

Graphic diagram showing EDL and related timings*
3.2 OU c EDL declaration
Credit: Beagle 2

Reactions to Discovery of Beagle 2

Dr David Parker, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: 'The history of space exploration is marked by both success and failure. This finding makes the case that Beagle 2 was more of a success than we previously knew and undoubtedly an important step in Europe's continuing exploration of Mars.'

Professor Mark Sims of the University of Leicester who was an integral part of the Beagle 2 project from the start leading the initial study phase and was Beagle 2 Mission Manager and led the Flight Operations team said:

"I am delighted that Beagle 2 has finally been found on Mars. Every Christmas Day since 2003 I have wondered what happened to Beagle 2. My Christmas day in 2003 alongside many others who worked on Beagle 2 was ruined by the disappointment of not receiving data from the surface of Mars. To be frank I had all but given up hope of ever knowing what happened to Beagle 2. The images show that we came so close to achieving the goal of science on Mars. The images vindicate the hard work put in by many people and companies both here in the UK and around Europe and the world in building Beagle 2. The highly complex entry, descent and landing sequence seems to have worked perfectly and only during the final phases of deployment did Beagle 2 unfortunately run into problems. I view it as a great achievement that the team built Beagle 2 in a little over 4 years and successfully landed it on the surface of Mars. It was a great pity we couldn't have delivered the world class science Beagle 2 may have brought and even sadder that Colin (Pillinger) and other colleagues who died in 2014 didn't live to see the discovery that Beagle 2 made it to Mars. Beagle 2 showed the fantastic innovation skills available from UK academia and industry and inspired many people in particular the young. Many opportunities exist for the UK, working with other countries to do inspired space exploration and science (subject of course to available funding)."

Dr Jim Clemmet who led the design, development of the Beagle 2 spacecraft from formal kick-off through to its departure from Earth said:

"Descent to the surface of Mars was a single chain of events with no backups due to the tight volumetric and mass constraints. So to have successfully landed and at least partially deployed with so many innovations, both technical and managerial, is such a major achievement and is the first for Europe - I feel so proud of the whole engineering team here in UK and elsewhere, including those in the USA and Europe, and would like to thank them all for their highly professional contributions and support.

I know Beagle2 has inspired young people to pursue careers in science, engineering and technology. This was one of our objectives and so for me Beagle has always been a success. To find it on the surface of Mars is wonderful but being so close to realising its science objectives is a shame. The story and influence of Beagle2 continues. Thank you Colin for the opportunity."

Dr Judith Pillinger who was heavily involved in the Beagle 2 project in particular its publicity and was married to Prof. Colin Pillinger said:

"On behalf of Colin, I would like to thank everyone who joined with him to make Beagle 2 happen so many years ago and in particular the NASA MRO HiRISE team and colleagues who have continued to search for the lander. For me and his family, of course, seeing the images from Mars brings about mixed emotions. An immense sense of pride is inevitably tinged with great sadness that Colin is not able to share the findings with us.

Colin was always fond of a football analogy. No doubt he would have compared Beagle 2 landing on Mars, but being unable to communicate, to having 'hit the crossbar' rather than missing the goal completely. Beagle 2 was born out of Colin's quest for scientific knowledge. Had he known the team came so close to scoring he would certainly have been campaigning to 'tap in the rebound' with Beagle 3 and continue experiments to answer questions about life on Mars."

Dr. John Bridges of the University of Leicester who led the selection of the Beagle 2 Landing Site and commissioned as HiRISE Co-investigator the recent follow-up images said:

"It's great to see Beagle 2 on Mars. This would not be possible without the high resolution and colour capabilities of the HiRISE camera on NASA's MRO where each pixel is 25 cm across. An early image of this area in Isidis was obscured by dust in the atmosphere but the more recent images have conclusive proof of the landing. The Isidis surface around Beagle is what we were planning for, with a gentle plain and some small wind-blown ridges that are a few tens of cm high. One of the positive things related to this discovery is that we are using the things we learnt from Beagle in the 2018 ExoMars Rover mission. For instance many of the Beagle2 scientists and engineers are now working on ExoMars instruments and landing site selection. "

Dr Tim Parker of NASA JPL who has assisted in the search and processed some of the images said:

"I've been looking over the Croon objects carefully, and I'm convinced that these are Beagle 2 hardware."

The Mission

Beagle 2 was part of the ESA Mars Express Mission launched in June 2003. Mars Express is still orbiting Mars and returning scientific data on the planet. Beagle 2 was successfully ejected from ESA's Mars Express spacecraft on the 19th December 2003 5.75 days away from Mars and Mars Express's engine firing and orbital injection.

The Beagle 2 project and its design attracted criticism from some quarters due to its loss; this discovery verifies small landers are capable of landing on Mars, although design changes would need to be made to any similar design to overcome some of the potential problems with such compact landers. ESA has issued requirements since Beagle 2 that landing modules should be in radio contact with orbiting spacecraft during the descent phase, a link which was unavailable to the Beagle 2 project. Beagle 2 also inspired many people amongst the general public and led indirectly to the UK becoming a leading member of ESA's Aurora programme and the ESA ExoMars mission where the UK is leading the design and building of the rover for the ExoMars 2018 mission at Airbus Defence and Space, Stevenage. The rover will explore Mars in 2019 drilling up to 2m beneath the soil exploring the geochemistry and mineralogy of Mars and searching for potential evidence of past Life. Recent discoveries by the NASA Curiosity rover (habitable environments and large lakes in the distant past, sporadic methane release) have greatly increased the chance of finding evidence that Life (in the form of micro-organisms) might have been, and might still exist, on Mars.

The Search

Since the loss of Beagle 2 following its landing timed for 25th December 2003 a search for it has been underway using images taken by HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). HiRISE has been taking occasional pictures of the landing site in addition to pursuing its scientific studies of the surface of Mars. The planned landing area for Beagle 2 at the time of launch was approximately 170 x 100 km within Isidis Planitia. With a fully-deployed Beagle 2 being less than a few metres across and a camera resolution ~25cm, detection is a very difficult and a painstaking task. The initial detection came from HiRISE images taken on 28th February 2013 and 29th June 2014 (Images ESP_037145_1915 and ESP_030908_1915).

This find shows that the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) sequence for Beagle 2 worked and Beagle 2 did successfully land on Mars on Christmas Day 2003. The imaging data is consistent however with only a partial deployment of Beagle 2 following landing which would explain why no signal or data was received from the lander as full deployment of all solar panels was needed to expose the RF antenna which would transmit data and receive commands from Earth via Mars orbiting spacecraft such as ESA's Mars Express Mission and NASA's Odyssey or NASA's MRO spacecraft, which would have acted as relay platforms, transmitting data to Earth and relaying commands back to Beagle 2. An EDL communications system had been considered but no Mars orbiter would have been in position to receive any signal for forward transmission to Earth.

As can be seen from the images (made available via this release) the HiRISE imaging data is consistent with only one or two (or at best three) of the motorised solar panels deploying, following successful release and deployment of the lid and base. Reasons for the failure of these panels could include obstruction from an airbag remaining in the proximity of the lander due to gas leakage, or a damaged mechanism or structure or broken electrical connection perhaps due to unexpected shock loads during landing. The scenario of local terrain topology, including rocks blocking the deployment is considered unlikely given images of the landing area which show few rocks but this cannot be ruled out. Further imaging and analysis is planned to narrow down the options. It is clear however that the EDL software completed its tasks and had handed over to the Lander's on-surface operations software and this software were operating normally for deployment. Slope and height derived from the HiRISE images by Aberystwyth University show that Beagle 2 landed on comparable flat terrain with no major hazards.

People Involved in Search for Beagle 2

Beagle 2 Search Team:

Professor Mark Sims (Beagle 2 Mission Manager), Space Research Centre, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester LE1 7RH, UK

Dr John Bridges (Beagle 2 Landing Site Selection Scientist and HiRISE Co-Investigator), Space Research Centre, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester

Dr Judith Pillinger Open University, Milton Keynes, UK

Dr Jim Clemmet, Retired (Airbus Defence and Space) (Beagle 2 Chief Engineer during Beagle 2 design, build and launch)

Stuart Hurst, Airbus Defence and Space Stevenage UK (Beagle 2 Chief Engineer during flight), Stevenage, UK

Dr. Laurence Tyler, Dr Matthew Gunn, Department of Computer Science, Aberystwyth University, Wales

Dr Robert Manning, Dr Timothy Parker, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, USA

Prof. Alfred McEwen, Principal Investigator (lead scientist) HiRISE, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona and the HiRISE operations team at the HiRISE Operations Centre Tucson, Arizona, USA

Michael Croon of Trier, Germany (formerly a member of ESA Mars Express operations team at ESOC) (identified possible targets)

The Beagle 2 overlay was produced with help from Piyal Samara-Ratna, Space Research Centre, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester LE1 7RH, UK

Beagle 2 HiRISE images were produced with assistance from Stuart Turner, PhD student, Space Research Centre, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester LE1 7RH, UK

UK Space Agency

The UK Space Agency is at the heart of UK efforts to explore and benefit from space. It is responsible for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme and provides a clear, single voice for UK space ambitions.

The Agency is responsible for ensuring that the UK retains and grows a strategic capability in the space-based systems, technologies, science and applications. It leads the UK's civil space programme in order to win sustainable economic growth, secure new scientific knowledge and provide benefits to all citizens.

The UK Space Agency:

  • Co-ordinates UK civil space activity
  • Encourages academic research
  • Supports the UK space industry
  • Raises the profile of UK space activities at home and abroad
  • Increases understanding of space science and its practical benefits
  • Inspires our next generation of UK scientists and engineers
  • Licences the launch and operation of UK spacecraft
  • Promotes co-operation and participation in the European Space programme

The University of Leicester

The University of Leicester is a leading UK University committed to international excellence through the creation of world changing research and high quality, inspirational teaching. Leicester is consistently one of the most socially inclusive of the UK's top 20 universities with a long-standing commitment to providing fairer and equal access to higher education. Leicester is a three-time winner of the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education and is the only University to win seven consecutive awards from the Times Higher. Leicester is ranked among the top one per-cent of universities in the world by the THE World University Rankings.

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