BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Science/Nature  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Monday, 23 September, 2002, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Trouble for British Mars lander
Beagle 2 (AFP)
Beagle 2: Will it be ready to fly?

A race is on to finish building a British spacecraft in time for the first European mission to Mars.

Engineers are working extra hours on Beagle 2, amid concern the project is running over budget and behind schedule.


We are doing our damndest to make sure that Beagle will be there on the launch pad with us

David Southwood, Director of Science, European Space Agency
It would be a major embarrassment to the UK if the robot - designed to land on the Red Planet - was left on the launch pad when the main space craft, Mars Express, blasts off early next year.

David Southwood, Director of Science at the European Space Agency (Esa), said the Mars Express probe would take-off with or without Beagle.

Speaking at a press conference in Toulouse, France, he said Beagle had to meet Esa's requirements in order to fly.

Express journey

"We have a first responsibility to get Mars Express into orbit," he said. "The second responsibility then is to get Beagle to the surface [of Mars]."

Esa's contribution to the budget for the Mars lander is limited by an agreement among member states.

Mars Express
Mars Express is Europe's first mission to the Red Planet
It was not Esa's responsibility to find any extra money but to make sure Beagle was suitable for flight, he said.

"The prime responsibility for Beagle is with the British Government and I believe that in recent weeks they have had to find more money," said Professor Southwood.

The lander is part of Europe's first mission to the Red Planet. The Mars Express spacecraft will drop Beagle on to the planet's rocky surface. The main goal is to look for water on Mars and find signs of life, past or present.

The ideal time to leave Earth for Mars is May/June 2003 when the position of the two planets makes for the shortest journey time. Similar conditions will not be repeated for several years.

Time pressures

Professor Southwood said the Mars Express programme had already been adjusted to accommodate Beagle 2's tight schedule.


We are most certainly going to do everything in our power to make sure we do not miss the schedule

Colin Pillinger, Beagle team leader
But he said Esa was committed to delivering Beagle to Mars to the best of its ability.

"We are doing our damndest to make sure that Beagle will be there on the launch pad with us," he told BBC News Online.

Beagle is being built at the Open University in Milton Keynes in a specially constructed sterile assembly area.

It must be kept free of terrestrial micro-organisms and other possible contaminants.

Mars race

Team leader Professor Colin Pillinger said they were working as fast as they possibly could to meet Esa's requirements.

"We are most certainly going to do everything in our power to make sure we do not miss the schedule," he told BBC News Online.

The British National Space Centre (BNSC), which co-ordinates UK civil space activity, said the Government was working very closely with the consortium.

"Beagle is a very ambitious and innovative project which naturally carries risks because it is at the technological cutting edge," said a spokesperson.

"We are confident that Beagle 2 can be completed on time and to schedule."

Some additional contracts had been placed, he added, to cover issues relating to the airbag and landing system of the space craft.

Nasa mission

The lander must be ready by January, when it is due to be shipped to the Russian launch site at Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

Mars Express is due to take off in May/June 2003 and will arrive at the Red Planet in time for Christmas.

It will orbit the planet and look for signs of water and life with seven scientific instruments.

The US space agency (Nasa) is planning to send a spacecraft and landers to the Red Planet at about the same time.

See also:

18 Sep 02 | Science/Nature
25 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
27 May 02 | Science/Nature
20 Dec 00 | Science/Nature
13 Sep 00 | Festival of science
05 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Science/Nature stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Science/Nature stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes