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Last Updated: Monday, 5 January, 2004, 16:08 GMT
Still no sign of missing Beagle
Beagle 2, image rights reserved by Beagle 2
Beagle 2 vanished during landing
Beagle 2's mothership will begin searching for the missing probe in the next few days.

Mission scientists said on Sunday that further attempts to contact the British-built lander had failed.

They are pinning their hopes on the European Space Agency's (Esa) Mars Express, which will be in position to look for its "baby" on Wednesday.

The news came as the US space agency Nasa celebrated the safe landing of its Spirit rover on the Red Planet.

It sent back images of the rocky, barren surface of Mars within hours of landing.

In contrast, Beagle touched down on Mars on Christmas Day but never sent back a radio signal to say it had survived the landing.

High stakes

Spirit is larger and more complex than Beagle 2, which weighed only 60 kilograms and cost less than a tenth of the 545m budget for the rover and its twin, Opportunity.

Beagle scientists are now focusing on two main reasons for the lack of contact besides the "disaster scenario".

NASA TRIUMPH

A software glitch or a problem with the probe's receiver or transmitter could explain Beagle's silence as well as the growing possibility that it was destroyed on landing.

Suggestions that communications equipment on the US Mars Odyssey orbiter might not be functioning were put to rest on Sunday when a signal was received from Spirit.

Beagle Mission manager Dr Mark Sims refuses to put numbers on the prospects of finding his lander alive.

"I'm not a betting man," he told a news conference in London. "We'll go through the whole process and only when we've ruled out all the options will we give up.

"We will keep going with Mars Express and with Beagle 2 for as long as we can."

The earliest opportunity to listen for a signal with Mars Express will take place between 1130 and 1400 GMT on Wednesday, 7 January.

There are further planned communications sessions up to mid-January.

"Our intention is that we really, really make a full out attempt on 7 January," said Professor Colin Pillinger, Beagle 2 lead scientist.

Fate unknown

If nothing is heard from Beagle via Mars Express, the fate of the craft may never be known.

Hi-tech cameras on Mars Express and the Nasa orbiter Mars Global Surveyor may be able to spot signs of its parachutes. But Professor Pillinger admitted this would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

"If we find a parachute, we'll know that [Beagle] arrived within six kilometres of the planet's surface [intact]," Dr Sims told BBC News Online.

If Beagle 2 survived the journey to the surface, and is able to communicate, it should have begun calling home five times every hour on Monday.

This mode, called communications search mode 2 (CSM2) will increase the chances of a signal being picked up.

But even if it is intact, there are a variety of reasons why Beagle might not have switched into this mode. These include a software timer reset, and a lack of battery power.


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