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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 March, 2004, 11:07 GMT
Scientists lobby on 'Beagle pups'
By Paul Rincon
BBC News Online science staff

Beagle 2    All rights reserved Beagle 2
There are few lander missions in the pipeline, say scientists
Scientists are lobbying Europe's space agency to request that it put landers on some of its upcoming missions.

It follows talks about possibilities for dropping science payloads on to other worlds after the enthusiasm sparked by Beagle and the Mars rovers.

Researchers, including the UK's Prof Colin Pillinger, have discussed landers for the Moon, Mars' satellites Phobos and Deimos, and Jupiter's moon Europa.

They hope top-level support could also open doors on future Nasa missions.

The scientists met recently at the German Aerospace Centre in Cologne for a workshop to discuss new ideas for landing targets and technology.

'Dramatic gap'

"We decided to send a resolution to the director-general of Esa, saying the in-situ (surface) science is not represented very well in the agency's programme at the moment," Dr Stephan Ulamec, of the German Aerospace Centre, told BBC News Online.

Orbiters are all very nice, but there's nothing quite like getting your hands dirty on the surface
Prof Colin Pillinger, Open University
The resolution urges Esa to address the fact it does not have any landers in the pipeline for its upcoming missions.

The disappearance of Beagle 2 has left Europe without a presence on the surface of Mars and a proposed lander for Esa's Bepi-Colombo mission to Mercury has been cancelled.

Beagle 2 creator Prof Pillinger attended the meeting with several British colleagues and presented his thoughts on putting a second version of his lander on a future Mars mission.

"Orbiters are all very nice, but there's nothing quite like getting your hands dirty on the surface," Prof Pillinger told BBC News Online.

Generic lander

Prof Pillinger said scientists at the Cologne workshop had discussed using Beagle 2 as a template for a generic lander that could be used repeatedly on different missions.

Scientists who attended the workshop agreed to set up three working groups; one to look at landers for moon missions, another for Mars and a third to look at landers for small bodies like comets and asteroids.

Over the next three months, the groups will work up proposals to send to Esa.

One target being mentioned repeatedly among space scientists is Europa. This moon of Jupiter has an icy crust about 25km thick which may hold a warm ocean underneath.

As a result, it is a prime candidate in the search for extraterrestrial life in our Solar System.

Broad support

"Despite the fact Europa is perhaps the most interesting target in the Solar System, it will be very, very difficult and expensive to get there," said Dr Norbert Krupp of the Max Planck Institute of Aeronomy in Germany.

Some scientists believe the best chance of getting a lander to Europa at the moment would be on the US space agency's multi-billion-dollar Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (Jimo) mission, which is still under development at Nasa.

"Jimo is the one that is still in the pipeline, even after that speech by President Bush," said Dr Krupp.

"It's a very nice opportunity to send another mission to the outer planets. We need landers and more investigation to understand what is going on out there."

Dr Krupp said a large number of European planetary scientists had already declared their interest in being involved in the mission and many scientists on both sides of the Atlantic supported the inclusion of a lander.

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