When British spacecraft Beagle 2 successfully ejected from Mars Express back on December 19th 2003, scientists expected to obtain confirmation of its touchdown on the Red Planet on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, no contact was ever received. Believing that it had been destroyed in a high-impact landing, the UK-led team abandoned the project, scuppering plans to search for signs of life on Mars. It's taken more than 11 years, but there's now finally some good news to report: Beagle 2 has been found intact on the planet's surface.
"What we can say today with some confidence is that Beagle 2 is no longer lost," says Dr. David Parker, CEO of the UK Space Agency. Parker says that three images captured by NASA's Hi-RISE spacecraft provided enough evidence that the probe was "resting on the surface" and that they were "consistent with Beagle 2 having successfully landed on Mars but only partially having deployed."
Beagle 2 was designed with a number of "petals" that would unfurl to reveal a series of solar panels and instruments. Those panels powered the onboard equipment, but they also sheltered the radio equipment that would communicate with scientists back on Earth. It's believed that due to a malfunction or a heavier than expected landing, the system didn't fully deploy, which ensured it stayed dark.
So while Beagle 2 didn't fulfil its mission on Mars, scientists will be cheered by the fact its expedition was partially successful. It's just a shame that Professor Colin "Muttonchops" Pillinger, the principal investigator behind the project who died last year, wasn't around to see it.