The Mars Express probe, which is carrying the Beagle 2 lander, launched smoothly on schedule from Kazakhstan last Monday as it began its six-month journey.
The UK’s Beagle 2 Mars Probe, built by Astrium, Stevenage, to be carried by the Mars Express spacecraft, will be launched from the satellite in December 2003 and will land on Mars to collect and analyze in situ samples.
The complete Beagle 2 package includes the lander, the entry descent and landing system and the spin up and ejection mechanism. The lander, surrounded by the packed airbags, the gas generator and the stowed pilot and main parachutes, is secured within a front shield, made by EADS launch Vehicles, and the back cover.
The all up mass of the Beagle 2 package, including those elements that remain in orbit with Mars Express, was measured at 74 kg, well within the mass allocated to Beagle 2.
Scientists from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, helped with the calibration of the robotic arm which will form a crucial part of the Beagle 2 mission as it searches for life on the planet. The arm – made of titanium and carbon fibre – will enable the mission to carry out experiments, including analysis of soil and rock samples.
When Beagle 2 lands, the Space Robotics Group at the Department of Computer Science at University of Wales, Aberystwyth will also help with the operation of the robotic arm. The group will be based at the National Space Centre in Leicester for the duration of the mission which will last for six months after landing on Mars. The robotic arm will have to contend with Martian conditions that can be quite severe, with dust storms featuring wind speeds up to 30 metres per second.
Temperatures on the Red Planet can range from minus100 degrees Celsius at night to just below freezing during the day.
“”The journey to Mars is hazardous in itself. not least the risks at lift-off and landing,”” said Dr David Barnes, who runs the Aberystwyth team. Information from the Mars project will be fed into other research programmes at Aberystwyth where the group will look at how future robots could diagnose and repair their own damage.
This article is a revision of the original article “”Welsh Hopes Aboard Mars Probe””.
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