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Friday, 18 October, 2002, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Chute test for Mars lander
Chute, BBC
Looking from above: The chute worked perfectly
Final tests are being conducted on the main parachute that will carry a European lander down on to the surface of Mars next year.

The chute will help slow the descent of Beagle 2 after it is jettisoned from the main probe, Mars Express, which will go into orbit around the Red Planet.


If we don't land on Mars safely, we have nothing

Prof Colin Pillinger
The parachute has been designed by famous balloonist Per Lindstrand from a special nylon - a very much lighter material than that used to make normal chutes on Earth.

On Friday, Lindstrand dropped a simulation weight from 90 metres (300 feet) with the Mars chute attached. He told the BBC he was very pleased with the outcome of the test.

"You've got to make sure that it deploys correctly without entangling itself," he said. "And we could see how it came out within one second and fully deployed, and was very stable.

"We are entirely happy with the test.

The simulation took place over an airfield in Oswestry on the English/Welsh border. Previous research completed in Arizona in the US had set the design parameters for the test flight.

Small mole

The most anxious observer was probably Professor Colin Pillinger, the Open University planetary scientist leading the British lander effort.

"My instruments are hanging on the end of this chute," he told the BBC.

Beagle, Esa/BBC
The chute will slow the descent but airbags will cushion the final impact
"It's the instruments that do the science but this chute is absolutely vital. If we don't land on Mars safely, we have nothing."

The European Space Agency's Mars Express mission will launch from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan in June.

The probe's payload of seven advanced analytical instruments will orbit the planet for two years.

Beagle 2 will detach from the side of the probe and parachute down to the surface. Its impact will be cushioned by giant airbags.

Once on the Martian soil, it will search the surface for signs of water and past or present life.

It will have cameras onboard, dust and temperature sensors, and a mechanical mole to burrow under rocks.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Martin Popplewell
"Scientists think Mars could sustain life"
The BBC's science correspondent Tom Heap
"The makers were delighted with the performance"
See also:

23 Sep 02 | Science/Nature
18 Sep 02 | Science/Nature
25 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
27 May 02 | Science/Nature
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