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  • Frits Westra
    Mars Exploration and the Search for Life is a Priority Says UK Science Minister. 29-Dec-03 12:00 GMT ...................................................
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 29 4:16 AM
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      Mars Exploration and the Search for Life is a Priority Says UK Science
      29-Dec-03 12:00 GMT



      The latest attempts to communicate with Beagle 2 via the Lovell Telescope
      at Jodrell Bank and the Mars Odyssey spacecraft have been unsuccessful.
      However, the Beagle 2 team has not given up hope and continues to be
      optimistic that efforts to contact the lander will eventually be

      Full story

      This message was also reinforced by Lord Sainsbury, UK Minister for
      Science and Innovation, who this morning joined members of the Beagle 2
      team to answer questions about the status of the project.

      "While we're disappointed that things have not gone according to plan, we
      are determined that the search should go on, both the search to make
      contact with Beagle 2 and also (the search) to answer the long term
      question about whether there is life on Mars," said Lord Sainsbury.

      "There's clearly still a good opportunity to make contact with Beagle 2
      with Mars Express when it comes into action, and that has to be the first
      priority at this point. I think everything is being done by the 'tiger
      team' in Leicester to make contact with Beagle 2 and I want to wish them
      every success in their efforts."

      "We are looking at a number of possible failure modes that we might do
      something about," said Dr. Mark Sims, Beagle 2 mission manager from the
      University of Leicester.

      "We are working under the assumption that Beagle 2 is on the surface of
      Mars and for some reason cannot communicate to us. In particular, we're
      looking at two major issues. One is communications, and there are also
      related timing and software issues.

      "We've got a few more Odyssey contacts, the last one being on 31 December.
      Then we have four contacts with Mars Express already pre-programmed into
      Beagle, assuming the software is running, on 6, 12, 13 and 17. The 6 and
      12 are when Mars Express is manoeuvring into its final orbit, so they are
      not optimum for Beagle 2 communications. The 13th and 17th are very good
      opportunities for Mars Express."

      According to Dr. Sims, one of the scenarios the team was investigating - a
      timer and hardware reset - now seems unlikely, and can probably be ruled
      out. However, other possible slips of the onboard time may have been
      caused by software or problems of copying data between various parts of
      memory. Possibly, all of the stored command times have been lost.

      "None of these can yet be eliminated," he said.

      After the tenth contact attempt, Beagle 2 will move into communication
      search mode 1 (CSM 1), taking advantage of the ability of the software on
      board Beagle 2 to recognise when dawn and dusk occur on Mars by measuring
      the current feeding from the solar arrays.

      "When we get into CSM 1 mode, Beagle 2 will start putting additional
      contacts on its time line, independent of the clock value," said Mark
      Sims. "This will happen after 31 December."

      The team is also looking at sending blind commands to Beagle 2. This is
      helped by Beagle going into CSM 1 mode.

      "The team has come up with a method of fooling the receiver into accepting
      commands without having to talk back to the orbiter," said Dr. Sims. "We
      have an agreement with JPL to reconfigure Odyssey to provisionally attempt
      this on 31 December, the last programmed Odyssey pass."

      Malin Space Science Systems has also provided the Beagle 2 team with a
      picture of the landing site taken by the camera on Mars Global Surveyor 20
      minutes after the spacecraft's scheduled touchdown. It shows that the
      weather was quite good on the day Beagle landed, so it was unlikely to be
      a factor in the descent. The next opportunity to image the landing site
      with Mars Global Surveyor will not be until 5 January.

      The image showing the centre of Beagle 2's landing ellipse also shows a 1
      km wide crater. There is just an outside possibility that the lander could
      have touched down inside this crater, resulting in problems caused by
      steep slopes, large number of rocks or disruption to communication from
      the lander. This image is now available on the Beagle 2 and PPARC Web
      sites (see link on the right hand side).

      While the Lander Operations Control Centre in Leicester continues its
      efforts to communicate with the Beagle 2, Lord Sainsbury took the
      opportunity to inform the media that the UK government is keen to continue
      the innovative robotic exploration effort begun with the lander.

      "Long term we need to be working with ESA to ensure that in some form
      there is a Beagle 3 which takes forwards this technology," he said. "I
      very much hope that the Aurora programme, which is now being developed by
      ESA, will take forward this kind of robotic exploration.

      "We've always recognised that Beagle 2 was a high risk project, and we
      must avoid the temptation in future to only do low risk projects.

      "I'd like to use this opportunity to add my thanks to all those helping
      our efforts to make contact with Beagle 2. I think the amount of
      international collaboration one gets on these occasions is very, very
      impressive and very encouraging to the team."

      "We should not ignore the importance of Mars Express, which has three
      British-designed instruments on board and which looks set for success," he

      "Finally, can I use this opportunity to wish the Americans every success
      with its two Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity."

      © Beagle 2: news»
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