The beginning of Beagle 2's lone odyssey

December 19, 2003

Following the successful separation of the British-built Beagle 2 spacecraft and the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter earlier today, ESA has released the first images of the small lander as it begins its lone voyage to the surface of the Red Planet.

The images, taken with the Visual Monitoring Camera on board Mars Express, show Beagle 2 as a bright disk slowly drifting away from Mars Express. The spacecraft is rotating like a spinning top approximately once every 4 seconds. This motion has the effect of stabilising the spacecraft's motion during the remainder of its journey to Mars and its entry into the planet's atmosphere.

When the first picture was taken, at 8:33 GMT, Beagle 2 was about 20 metres (66 ft) away from the mother spacecraft and drifting away at a speed of about 0.3 m/s (1 ft/s).

The images show the top of the lander's cone-shaped outer shell. The heat shield that will protect the spacecraft during its headlong plunge into the planet's atmosphere on 25 December is out of sight on the far side of Beagle 2.

Beagle 2 was named to commemorate Charles Darwin's five-year voyage around the world in HMS Beagle (1831-36). The outcome of Darwin's groundbreaking studies, including his observations of the unique wildlife on the Galapagos Islands, was the publication of On the Origin of Species (1859), which described his revolutionary theories of evolution.

Beagle 2 weighs about 68 kg and is 0.95 m in diameter. Attached to ESA's Mars Express spacecraft, it was launched by a Soyuz/Fregat rocket from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 2 June 2003.

By the time it arrives on the Martian surface, Beagle 2 will weigh 33 kg, of which 9 kg will be science instruments. Its main objective is to search for signs of life - past or present - on the Red Planet.


All media enquiries up until 24th December to:-
Peter Barratt
Tel: 179-344-2025
Mobile: 787-960-2899

Gill Ormrod
Tel: 179-344-2012
Mobile: 781-801-3509

Julia Maddock
Tel: 179-344-2094
Mobile: 790-151-4975

Please note that from 2300 hours on 24th December 2003 the Beagle 2 Media Centre will operate from:-

The Open University - Camden Offices
1-11 Hawley Crescent
Camden, London NW1 8NP
Tel: 01908-332015/01908-332017
Fax: 01908-332016

For further details on Mars Express and Beagle 2 see the following websites:-

Science and Technology Facilities Council

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