Beagle 2 Team Honoured

Beagle 2 Team Honoured

28/07/2015Written by Jamie Laughton

The Beagle 2 team have been honoured for their innovative work, following the discovery of Britain's long lost Mars rover earlier this year.

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Lander Operations Centre

Lander Operations Centre

Here at the National Space Centre we have always followed the story of Beagle 2 closely. Not only was this little probe representative of the UK’s innovative space industry but we were intrinsically linked to the design and operation of the proposed lander. The small team, led by Professor Colin Pillinger, were based at the National Space Centre as we were also selected to be the site of the Lander Operations Control Centre.

In the months leading up to the launch and landing of the spacecraft, scientists based here would supervise the mission during flight whilst providing our visitors with a unique insight. Had the mission gone to plan, the lander would have continued to be controlled from the National Space Centre and the data collected would have been relayed from here to other science institutions for analysis.

Unfortunately, as many of you may be aware, back in 2003 the ‘call home’ signal from Beagle 2 never came. Although the probe was searched for, it couldn’t be found. The last contact came in late December when the probe separated from the parent craft. However, earlier this year the probe was rediscovered, over a decade since last contact. Images taken on the surface of Mars revealed that the probe in fact landed safely, however a problem with the solar panel deployment had prevented full operation taking place. While a bitter-sweet victory, it was a victory nonetheless. Landing is the most difficult part of any mission, and the Beagle 2 team had achieved it. 

This was a fantastic achievement for any team but for those of us a little closer to the project, it now feels even more momentous. This could be due to the previous tragedy that had been endured after the mission was thought to be completely lost. The vindication that the landing system had worked provides some consolation to the team that worked on, what was thought to be, an unsuccessful mission.

The payload space allowed for Beagle 2 was tiny, as the project was originally developed to fill a small weight excess that was left on a Mars mission. The team worked hard to ensure that the rover could be squeezed into the tight mass budget and required creative methods to ensure the project remained low mass and low space. The innovative ‘folding leaf’ solar panel system was key to fitting the lander on the mission. It took a great deal of engineering knowledge to ensure there was even a possibility that it would work. Although this system would ultimately cause the mission to fail, it still took an enormous amount of work to get to the stage Beagle 2 reached.

Image Credit: ESA

Beagle 2 honoured

This month the performance of Beagle 2 was honoured. The project team were celebrated for their outstanding achievement in space activities at the Sir Arthur Clarke awards ceremony in July. These prestigious British awards are given out annually to organisations or individuals who have made significant contributions to progress the space industry.

“It is a great pity that Colin Pillinger who lead the Beagle 2 project, George Fraser and Dave Barnes who all sadly passed last year are not here to see the award which recognises the extraordinary efforts made by the whole team, industry and academia to design, build, test and deliver Beagle 2 to the surface of Mars.” – Prof Mark Sims, when collecting the award at the UK Space Conference.

The award comes as a fantastic tribute to the hard work and enormous effort put into the UK's first mission to another planet. It serves to help highlight the fantastic work the UK space industry gets up to, despite their modesty. The National Space Centre is incredibly proud to have worked with this team during the mission and wish to join the rest of the community in recognising their great achievement and contribution to Britain's space industry.