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Last Updated: Monday, 7 July, 2003, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Milestone for Mars lander
By Helen Briggs
BBC News Online science reporter

The Beagle 2 lander has passed its first routine "health check" on the journey to Mars.

Mars Express and Beagle, Esa
Mars Express will eject Beagle 2
Engineers made contact with the module at the weekend to test various systems as it hurtled towards the Red Planet onboard Mars Express.

It appears to be in good shape for the 400-million-kilometre journey.

"Everything we checked out has worked as predicted," Beagle team leader Professor Colin Pillinger told BBC News Online.

"We had full contact from Earth through Mars Express to Beagle.

"All the pieces are in place and they allow the contact we need to run the mission."

Power limit

Ground controllers at the European Space Agency's operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, went through a series of detailed checks on Beagle 2.

They tested its hardware, uploaded software and switched certain components on and off.

It is a routine part of any space mission and is needed to ensure the lander has survived the massive shaking it is put through at launch.

Professor Pillinger, of the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, said temperatures on Beagle 2 were a degree higher than expected but this was "only a trivial amount".

Launch, AP
Mars Express and Beagle 2 were launched in early June
The tests on Beagle 2 are the latest in a series of checks on the Mars Express payload during the first month of its voyage.

Last week, engineers found the orbiter was down to 70% power due to a faulty connection between the craft's solar wings and a unit that distributes the electricity generated by the arrays.

The power shortage is expected to have no impact on the state of the space craft or the mission objectives.

However, it may mean changes to how the various instruments on Mars Express are deployed once it arrives at the planet.

Long cruise

Mars Express will now undergo a long interplanetary cruise. Its instruments will be switched off and the space craft will go into hibernation mode.

During this time, ground controllers will make daily contact with the probe to check all is well.

Mars Express has travelled about 10 million kilometres since it was launched on 2 June.

The European probe is currently at the head of a fleet of three space craft heading to Mars.

Just behind it is the US space agency's Spirit rover; and behind that is Nozomi, a Japanese satellite that will go into orbit around Mars.

The Americans have a second rover, Opportunity, which they hope to launch on Monday. All the space craft are timed to arrive within days of each other.

Space map, BBC




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